Integrated sustainability assessment of social and technological innovations towards urban food systems

Today, 11 February: International Day of Women and Girls in Science! – Some notes on gender issues in academia

“On 22 December 2015, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution to establish an annual International Day to recognize the critical role women and girls play in science and technology communities.” It’s today: 11th February. Actually, the 5th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of the United Nations is “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”. Yesterday I joined the “Women in science 2017” initiative by providing my testimony regarding my scientific career. All these projects support the increasing awareness of the gender equity issue in academia.

I’m currently preparing a paper of a research study I made with my ex-colleague Beatriz Rodríguez-Labajos, where we evaluated the gender equality in an excellent environmental sciences institution with a mixed methods scheme. To understand the current gender issues in academia, I here list some of the discourses we found in the literature review when preparing our study:

  • The underrepresentation of women in academia, particularly in power positions (i.e., creating a pyramid of power) – Data of the UE in “She figures
  • The obstacles women find in advancing in the career, some of them tied to the current evaluation methods in academia where career breaks (e.g., maternity, caring) are not contemplated
  • The fact that successful men in academia were traditionally men who had a “household woman” who covered all the household non-paid work done. Such traditional patterns of “household wifes”are still kept in mind, making academia a 24/7 career that leads to a difficult family-work conciliation. Even more, women in academia are expected to be a “superwoman” that covers all the demands of an academic position while taking care of the household and family
  • The phenomenon of “gender devaluation”: when women reach a power position, men will devaluate the relevance and power of that position as it’s chaired by a woman, who cannot play such a power role
  • The fact that male attitudes (e.g., agressivity, competition, individualism) are prevailed in academia, contrasting female attitudes (e.g., feelings, co-creation, collaboration). In this context, female sometimes act as a man, showing a cold and agressive attitude (e.g., in meetings)

However, we must overcome some self-barriers that these discourses provoke, as:

  • Gender equity is not exclusively of women and girls. Men also face several obstacles in the academia related to the same issues women have traditionally done. For example, family-work conciliation is also hard for men, particularly those that have a key role in their household where responsibilities are equally shared
  • The competitive and agressive nature of academia is a problematic that might be solved beyond the gender debate
  • Career breaks might be considered in the academic career evaluation not only for family issues but also for personal ones, no matter the gender of the candidate
  • Gender equity is not a 50-50 equilibrium, but an equilibrium of opportunities, rights and respect

Some readings on the topic:

  • Larivière V, Ni C, Gingras Y, et al (2013) Bibliometrics: Global gender disparities in science. Nature 504:211–213. doi: 10.1038/504211a
  • Caprile M, Addis E, Castaño C, et al (2012) Meta-analysis of Gender and Science Research: Synthesis Report.
  • Powell S (2016) Gender equality and meritocracy.
  • Resmini M (2016) The “Leaky Pipeline.” Chem – A Eur J 22:3533–3534. doi: 10.1002/chem.201600292
  • Nielsen MW (2014) Justifications of Gender Equality in Academia: Comparing Gender Equality Policies of Six Scandinavian Universities. NORA – Nord J Fem Gend Res 22:1–17. doi: 10.1080/08038740.2014.905490
  • Shen H (2013) Mind the gender gap. Nature 495:22–24. doi: 10.1111/j.1742-1241.2011.02659.x
  • Zippel K, Ferree MM, Zimmermann K (2016) Gender equality in German universities: vernacularising the battle for the best brains. Gend Educ 28:867–885. doi: 10.1080/09540253.2015.1123229

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