Photo by Stewart Butterfield, Flickr CC

Originally posted Aug. 15, 2017

Women have made many strides towards equality in the workplace. Yet, studies continue to show that women are frequently paid less than men, women are expected to perform more secretarial tasks, and women are less likely to be promoted to higher-level occupations within organizations. And academia is no exception — while attaining tenure and promotion is the key to a long academic career, universities are less likely to grant it to women. A recent study by Katherine Weisshaar explores why female academics have a harder time achieving tenure promotion than their male peers.

The author developed a unique longitudinal dataset that includes department information and characteristics (e.g. prestige ranking, gender composition) from the National Research Council (NRC), Google Scholar citations, personal websites, and CVs. From 2000 to 2004, Weishaar documented the names of former assistant professors in 330 departments within sociology, computer science, and English. She examines three possible explanations for the 7 percent gender difference between male and female assistant professors in sociology departments: scholarly productivity (i.e. publications, awards, research grants), organizational differences (i.e. gender composition, prestige, public or private) and inequality in evaluations (i.e. gender bias, differences in recommendations).

The results indicate that women are less likely to receive tenure than their male peers across all three disciplines, though sociology and English maintain the greatest gender inequities in tenure. When women do secure tenure, the process takes longer than for male academics. Female assistant professors in sociology were less likely to publish in the discipline’s most prestigious journals (e.g. Social Forces, American Sociological Review, and American Journal of Sociology), obtained lower numbers of citations for their publications, and secured promotions in less prestigious departments. 

Overall, productivity differences accounted for approximately 34 percent of the gender gap, while time differences accounted for approximately 20 percent of the gender gap. The largest contributing factor to the gender gap (roughly 40 to 45 percent), however, lies within the assistant professor evaluation process that includes subtle biases and discrimination against women. Thus, increases in women’s individual productivity in the workplace will not likely lead to equal representation in higher occupational positions. Employers must also evaluate the ways in which gender discrimination both explicitly and implicitly hinder women’s promotion opportunities, despite equal rates of productivity.