Rectifying the Unequal Valuation & Distribution of Work in Academia

The unequal distribution and valuation of women’s work – in academia and broadly – is a significant feature of modern sexism. For this set of tips, we outline this phenomenon's relationship to benevolent sexism, how unequal work appears in higher education, and what we can do to stabilize the scales.

Reflect: How Can Sexism Influence the Type of Work Done?

Gendered stereotypes, particularly the belief that women are supposed to be communal and caring,1 are fundamental to the unequal representation in different career fields and the work done in one’s office. Gender stereotypes lead hiring officers to make biased judgements of applicants based on their job perceptions,1 leading women to be overrepresented in certain types of fields which are considered “feminine” (e.g., education versus STEM).2, 3 These stereotypes also affect women’s career aspirations.4 Gendered stereotypes also lead to women doing more necessary but undesirable office housework than men, while receiving less career benefit from this work than men.5 Consider the overrepresentation of gender in different fields. How are these fields comparatively spoken of (e.g., STEM vs. education)? How are these fields comparatively compensated? How might gender stereotypes affect the valuation of specific types of work done (such as office housework)?

Learn: Unequal Distribution and Evaluation of Work in Higher Education

The level of devaluation and inequity in work for women in higher education is a persistent problem. Service work in higher education, an area where women are disproportionately overrepresented,6, 7 is undervalued when compared to research and teaching8 - despite supporting overall functions of the university. The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened this load,9 creating further gender disparity. The proliferation of “manels” in academia,10 panels with only male speakers on a topic despite the presence of multiple women experts, also show an unequal distribution of “glamorous” work. This underrepresentation cascades into other elements of one’s professional career. Just like the under-citation of women,11 low rates of invited professional speaking opportunities can have lasting consequences on career outcomes such as tenure and promotion12 - especially in STEM, where they are already underrepresented.13 Though these trends focus on women faculty, similar experiences are had with graduate students, post-doctoral candidates,14 student affairs professionals, and campus leaders.15

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