For this Ally Tips, we are taking a deep dive this week into a very common form of gender bias – the implicit and explicit devaluation of women’s accomplishments and competence. We chat “untitling,” stereotypical perspectives of women’s abilities, how we can make space for the expertise of women, and more!
Reflect: Have you seen “untitling”?
Omitting professional titles, or “Untitling” (Diehl, 2020 ), is rampant in how people refer to women in positions of power or higher influence. A common form of “untitling” in higher education is women faculty members being greeted without their proper title (e.g., “Mrs.” vs. “Dr.”). A recent example of this is the widely controversial Wall Street Journal op-ed that suggested that Dr. Jill Biden, First Lady of the United States, did not deserve to be called “Dr.” Another version of this phenomenon is “unnaming” - the tendency for people to name men in describing a scenario while simultaneously leaving involved women unnamed. Dr. Shivani Misra’s story below exemplifies how entrenched this phenomenon is, even when a woman is “first-author.” Where have you seen people untitle/unname women in your field? How do people respond when this happens?
Learn: In what ways are women’s competence de-legitimized in higher education?
There are many ways in which higher education allows women to continuously and consistently be de-legitimized. Light, Benson-Greenwald, and Diekman (2022) found that academics were more likely to view a field as “soft science” if they perceived a higher number of women within the research ranks; stereotypes about women’s ability and competence in STEM were predictors of this bias. In student evaluations, women are consistently rated lower ( Boring, Ottoboni, & Stark, 2016), regardless of their performance (MacNell, Driscoll, & Hunt, 2015) and whether the same content is being delivered with the same method ( Mitchell & Martin, 2018 ). In addition to the stereotypes of women’s technical or academic ability, emotionality is a frequent stereotype used to devalue women. This stereotype has been used as an alternative, negative explanation for behaviors that are also present in men (Barrett & Bliss-Moreau, 2009) and caused many women to be questioned on their ability to lead or be an expert (e.g., Bauer, 2015; Brescoll, 2016). The bias against women’s capabilities is not only present in men, with examples like a recent study that found male students with the same qualifications as female students were favored more highly by men and women faculty (Moss-Racusin et al., 2012).
- Make space for women to speak on and pursue their expertise: Another way that women’s accomplishments and competence are devalued is when they are not included in opportunities to speak as experts. If you are considering speakers for an event, literature for your study/class, or simply resources to share with others, make the conscious choice to incorporate/invite women in these conversations. If you are invited to speak and see that only men have been included in the discussion, advocate that the organizers include women and gender non-conforming/non-binary academics; this can include sharing the names of people you know or, if the organizers refuse, calling out the event for not being inclusive of a diversity of genders. Additionally, examine how office/departmental tasks are divided. Considering that research shows disparities in academic service demands based on gender and race, make sure that tasks that are deemed “less desirable” are being equitably divided in your office/department. Doing so will destabilize sexist divisions of labor (that also intersect with other identities like race).
- Take measures to stop devaluation in conversations: From implicit behaviors (like “untitling”) to explicit biases about women’s ability, the devaluation and de-legitimization of women is pervasive. If someone does not properly cite a woman, does not refer to her by her title, or ignores the contribution of a woman in your office, talk to that person about why doing so is harmful. Ask them if they realize what they are communicating by saying that or behaving that way. To prevent these kinds of behaviors, set norms for conversation in your unit, team, classroom, or working group– including how not to interrupt others, how to respectfully build off or challenge another’s points, and how to not overuse one’s speaking time. Setting these expectations ahead of time and making clear their purpose will create recognition of this bias that may ripple into the behaviors of your students or peers in other spaces.
- Reassess how you evaluate the work of women: Boring, Ottoboni, and Stark (2016) argue that methods like student evaluations of teaching are more effective measures of bias and grade expectations than they are of effectiveness, an argument corroborated by numerous studies into student evaluations (Heffernan, 2021 ). Recognizing that bias is prevalent throughout subjective evaluations of objective aspects of one’s capabilities, think about alternative frameworks that you can use to evaluate performance. If you must use a certain method that is susceptible to bias, consider how you weigh these evaluations with respect to their reliance on subjective observations. This consideration can be included in peer evaluations, yearly reviews, and more. Talk with others in your unit, office, classroom, or working group about the ways in which certain evaluation methods can be biased against certain populations, including women.
Weekly Resource Recommendations
- Book: Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia – This edited volume uses empirical studies and personal narratives to explore the bias women of color face in academia.
- Video: The Likability Dilemma for Women Leaders – Robin Hauser discusses the tension that women feel when it comes to leading others while tackling stereotypes about their abilities.
- Article: If Only Quoting Women Were Enough - Amanda Taub and Max Fisher discuss that increasing the visibility and representation of women as experts and disrupting sexism takes much more than just citing more women.
- Podcast: The Gender Power Gap (Women are the Business) - In this episode, guest Dr. Jennifer Overbeck discusses how women leaders are perceived differently in the workplace as a result of bias, despite doing the same behaviors that are deemed as normal or successful in men.
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