Hopefully, your experience as a PhD student has been, or will be positive, supportive and enabling. Unfortunately, if you are a woman the chances that you face challenges or obstacles to your career development statistically increase as time goes on. Along with the difficult choices women academics have to make in ‘timing’ if they wish to have families, they face selection bias, more negative and stereotyped student feedback (see this fascinating study examining the words used to describe male and female teachers in about 14 million reviews from RateMyProfessor.com), a lack of senior role models and overwhelming institutionalised expectations that women are less ambitious or assertive.
It is not only women who can face an uphill battle at academic institutions. Those who identify as LGBQT, those with physical disabilities and people with a non-Western heritage also widely report facing discrimination. If you are on campus, the SU's Pride society can be found here.
Take a look at this blog post from Advance HE to see some of the stark disparities along lines of gender and race that still structure the HE sector.
Academia is starting to wake up to these issues, but undoing them is a complex job. If you are a woman who wants to pursue an academic career, start familiarising yourself with these debates and reflecting on how they may affect you. Whatever your gender, it serves us all that our institutions are more inclusive and representative so that all academics can focus on excellence in research and teaching without sacrificing personal lives or feeling isolated or insecure. Think about the culture that prevails at your institution and department and how you can participate in challenging inequality in academia.
Getting involved with, or setting up a peer group can be a huge source of support and a way to share insight and strategies. There are also a range of grant and funding opportunities aimed at supporting women to make the leap from PhD research into a long term academic career, without having to sacrifice a personal life. The Athena Swan award is a way for academic departments to gain recognition of their successes as improving equality (see what the University of Exeter is doing here).
Here are a range of interesting online articles and blog posts:
- TenureSheWrote on women in academia
- The Times Higher Education on women in academia
- The Guardian on sexism in universities
- Slate.com on the 'baby penalty'
- The Guardian on gender bias in student reviews
- The Conversation on gender bias in academia
- The Times Higher Education on how welcoming academia is LGBT staff
- Trans Inclusion Booklet produced by the SU in collaboration with NUS Liberation Campaigns and Stonewall
- The Scientific American on race and sex discrimination
- The Independent reports that race discrimination in academia hasn't improved in 20 years