Gender Equity Issues

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every aspect of academic life, on and off campus. There is plenty of attention on the COVID-19 impact on education (Wikipedia 2020). In contrast, there is little talk on the impacts of faculty in higher education. To gain an understanding of the COVID-19 related amplification on pre-existing gender equity issues within academia, the reader is invited to hear about real-life examples of gender inequity, followed by reading the collected publications on gender bias/inequity and the focus on the bias for women within other marginalized groups. Once a foundation on the importance of gender bias is created, the conversation can continue to actionable remedies to these issues.

Please use the table of contents below to navigate the start of this conversation:

Acknowledgement of the Observed Gender Bias and Inequity

Equity is defined as the process that achieves an outcome that has equality. This means that equality is NOT the same as equity. If equity is successfully implemented on a gender basis, all groups are given the needed number and types of resources so that they achieve equal results in comparison with other groups. Example of how inequities in educations can lead in a lack in diversity within the workforce can be observed in the Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education: A Status Report (Espinosa, et al. 2020). Unfortunately, popular attempts for gender equity resemble equal distribution of resources. This is due to the unwillingness to acknowledge gender inequity in academia.

The first step to solving a problem is properly identifying issue itself. Similar to learning new course concepts, we can tackle this step by examining numerous examples of gender (in)equity. To help quicken the acknowledgement step of gender inequity, more voices need to be heard. You, the reader, can directly share your personal story with us, the academic community, to start that honest conversation.

Gender (In)Equity in Academia on the Public Platform

Prior to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, there were shared accounts of gender bias and inequity on public platforms (Cardel 2020 and Kuo 2017). Already, there are accounts of COVID-19 related inequity being shared in academic journals (e.g. Flaherty 2020 and Gonzales 2020). More inference to gender inequity can be found on Twitter and other online social platforms.

The inequitable balance of responsibilities amplified by COVID-19 pandemic. Image created by Roel Fleuren.

Facts Collected on Gender (In)Equity

Like all academics, the facts are not truly accepted until they are stated in a peer-reviewed journal. If desired, researched facts on gender equity can be found in a more exhaustive list here. The overlooked aspects of gender equity are described below.

The Inequity Intersection of Gender and Other Marginalized Groups

Racial Inequities in Science

Gender and racial equity in academia is an ethical issue and an issue of social justice. Beyond those free-standing valid reasons, evidence supports a “gender-diversity dividend” in academia, i.e., the inclusion of diverse perspectives is a net gain for scientific progress (Nielen, et. al 2017). Conversely, the burden of promoting inclusion and diversity falls disproportionately to the racial/ethnic underrepresented individuals and they are more likely to be “punished” for their diversity work while men in majority groups are rewarded for it (Johnson and Hekman, 2016). In other words, affected groups highlighting inequity will potentially undermine their own salary enhancements related to merit, promotion, and tenure.

For example, in response to the murder of George Floyd, many universities are creating committees to evaluate internal policies and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. Faculty and staff members from minoritized groups are disproportionately asked to serve on these committees. These social justice endeavors involve tremendous time and effort but are unlikely to be weighed equally in a blanket solution.

Furthermore, there is a “Diversity-Innovation Paradox” (Hofstra et., al 2020). Hoftra and co-authors provide evidence that although diverse underrepresented groups in academia produce more innovative work, they do not reap the benefits as measured by successful academic careers. Underrepresented faculty members tend to receive more rude and unprofessional journal reviews (Silbiger and Stubler, 2019) and regularly experience higher levels of work stress in non-pandemic academic pursuits, causing a lack of persistence and promotion (Zambrana, 2018). Additionally, PIs who identify as black are less successful at obtaining NIH R01 grants than are PIs who identify as white, even when applicants have similar research records (Kaiser, 2011; Hoppe et al., 2019). Because women and racial/ethnic underrepresented faculty are already disadvantaged in the teaching evaluation process, we also will expect the disparity will be greater as a result of the rapid transition from face-to-face classes to remote instruction. Adding additional COVID-19 stressors is likely to push underrepresented faculty to experience unhealthy physical and mental health, and can be detrimental to their academic successes and pursuit of tenure and promotion.

Being a Caregiver and an Academic During the Pandemic

We are not making a statement on the value of personal time of parents versus non-parents; everyone is entitled to have free time away from work. There is an issue of having an academic system that requires faculty to devote work and personal time to the job in order to be successful. However, while many academics are married to other academics, women in all ranks of academia do more housework and also put in more hours into their job compared to their male counterparts (SchieBinger and Gilmartin 2010).

Notably, there are parenting and other care responsibilities (e.g., elderly parents or other family members) that do impact success in academia. While all caregivers face the challenges associated with raising a family and navigating the academic path, there are several barriers to women in academia. For example, after becoming mothers, women earned 4% less whereas after becoming fathers men earned 6% more (Mikel 2018). There are also disparities in impacts of parental leave and stopping the tenure clock for parenthood (Flaherty 2013).

Other Academic Casualties of the Pandemic

We want to clearly state that we are not advocating that non-parents somehow pick up the slack or “accommodate” the “lifestyle choice” of parents. Even if people are not caregivers and/or parents, most people will experience at least some consequence from this pandemic. Parents are feeling the immediate squeeze, others will feel it later. For example, many faculty are long distant from their hometowns and families. This is especially true for international faculty who are far from their family. The extended and unplanned isolation from their support networks will have a long-term effect on their work-life balance and possibly mental health. In addition, early-career faculty will be more isolated professionally due to less networks than tenured faculty, which will compound their decreased productivity.

Instead of quick fixes that do not ensure equality through equitable resources, we need to acknowledge that we do not know the impacts and that we need to find ways to keep everyone on track. A good starting point for finding more solutions that promote gender equity can be found here.