Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Coping with "gender devaluation" in the academy

In the June 2008 issue of Perspectives on Politics (hat tip to Elisabeth J. Wood), Kristen Monroe, Saba Oztury, Ted Wrigley, and Amy Alexander's "Gender Inequality in Academia: Bad News from the Trenches, and Some Possible Solutions" identifies "gender devaluation" as a primary barrier to women achieving equality with men in academic ranks.

The authors present job and salary statistics to reveal gender differentials: Only 29 percent of lawyers are women; tenured professors are four times more likely to be male; the average salary of female faculty is 80 percent of male faculty's average salary (216-17). Then they turn to their key source: in-depth interviews with 80 women faculty who taught at the University of California at Irvine between 2002 and 2006 (which they term "the largest systematic set of interview data on this topic", 230).

They conclude that women faculty members see a "subtle process by which women's work is devalued or minimized, so that work or positions once deemed powerful and conferring high status frequently become devalued as women increasingly take on these roles" (230). Women's response to this "gender devaluation" is not legal (women who tried that route "found it produced very little", 231), but informal collective action and indirect challenges, both of which are less likely to provoke the reprisals often triggered by overt action. The authors recommendations include redefining "the concept of professional success" so that "it allows for alternative models" that permit less linear progress (to allow men and women to meet family needs) and improving policies with respect to family leave, longer tracks to tenure, partner-hiring, and mentoring (231).

I was especially struck by one interviewee's insight:

"Q: Does the system need a change in terms of its rewarding structure, valuing service and other administrative, managerial work as much as research, for example?

Janina: But how do you build that into a review file? How do you say Faculty X did a great job keeping the faculty from being at each other's throats after a difficult personnel decision? No, what she did was, she went into the hall. She talked to everybody. She made them feel good. That's an invaluable contribution and yet we don't value it. There is no question that the system values research and publication over service. I think there are three ways to talk about this. Where are the moments in which we reveal our values?

(1) When we hire people. We never hire people who are good citizens; we hire those who have published, and published in the right places and published frequently enough. Then we look at their research and teaching. I can tell you, nobody is being hired in the University of California system for being a good teacher or being a good citizen.

(2) We can look at how people get promoted. . . . Imagine if teaching really mattered, what would our promotion cases look like? We would write that section as vigorously and in the same detail as the research section. . . .

(3) Service? Even less decisive than the teaching. I was actually called a chump for becoming a department chair. Why? It is a waste of time that could be spent on research and publication. It is not rewarded . . . " (229).