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His, Hers, and Ours: Gendered Roles and Resources in Academic Departments

Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice Center for Women Men and Masculinities Womxn in Student Affairs
November 30, 2018 Meghan J. Pifer University of Louisville


This article presents findings from an exploratory study of whether and how gender-based patterns were present in faculty members’ departmental networks. A network analysis approach was used to identify if women and men had ties to their departmental colleagues in similar patterns and for similar purposes. Findings from the analysis of network survey and interview data with 19 faculty members in two academic departments suggest that some participants held gendered expectations of collegial support and that perceptions of gender roles may have influenced departmental work and relationships. Gender was salient for women in ways that did not shape the experiences of men in the same departments. There was a tendency for participants to connect to colleagues who were women for teaching-related purposes more than for research purposes or other reasons. Faculty members’ relationships with their colleagues may be shaped by their own gender-based assumptions and behaviors as well as those of their colleagues. These differences across gender led to different networks of relationships for various functions of colleagueship, which participants used to obtain different resources that were important for their career success.

Given consistent documentation of gender inequity in academic careers as well as scholarship that has framed postsecondary organizations as gendered contexts and professional spaces (e.g., O’Meara, Kuvaeva, Nyunt, Waugaman, & Jackson, 2017), there is a need to learn more about gender-based experiences within the professoriate. According to the most recent statistics available, 48% of college and university faculty members are women (NCES, 2013a). This near-parity in numerical representation has not been met with equity across other factors of the academic career, such as rank and salary. Although women comprise 48% and 42% of faculty members at the early- and mid-career ranks of assistant professors and associate professors, respectively, only 28% of full professors are women (NCES, 2013b). The average salaries of men with faculty appointments are higher than those of women across all institution types and ranks (AAUP, 2015). Women assistant professors and associate professors earn, on average, about 92% of their within-rank counterparts who are men. Women earn 87% of the salaries paid to men at the rank of full professor, on average (AAUP, 2015).

These differences are less severe than the gender wage gap of 79% reported at the national level across all sectors of employment (American Association of University Women, 2015), and suggest that pay equity may be more likely for early- and mid-career faculty members than those in the late stages of their careers, as a reflection of broader trends towards social equity in the United States. However, quantitative data demonstrate that nationwide, according to the metric of compensation, there are sex-based differences in faculty careers. Such trends suggest the lingering consequences of historic discrimination and societal norms around gender equity, employment, and academic work. Further, they fail to demonstrate that such discrimination and inequity are remnants of the past and raise questions about how ongoing biases at both the organizational and individual levels may affect academic women’s work, including their opportunities and experiences. This article builds upon other work that has advanced an understanding of the factors influencing the academy and women’s work lives within it, in an effort to apply a qualitative exploration of micro-level factors that contribute to macro-level trends and patterns.

At the national level, the National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE Program is one example of the investment of resources into the generation of knowledge and practices that will “increase the representation and advancement of women;” its focus is on academic science and engineer- ing in particular (National Science Foundation [NSF], n.d.). At the institutional level, the MIT Report on the Status of Women Faculty in the Schools of Science and Engineering at MIT (2011) serves as an example of colleges and universities’ responses to documented inequities and gender-based challenges in academic careers, also focusing on the science, technology, engineer- ing, and math (STEM) fields. Fewer studies have explored academic women’s experiences outside of the STEM fields. While there is a need to understand gendered perspectives of academic work in the traditionally male-dominated STEM environments, there is an equally important need to understand how gender shapes perceptions of, and work within, academic contexts across institution types and disciplines.

Faculty work is embedded in national, disciplinary, and institutional contexts; this article advances the need to further understand faculty experiences through consideration of the contextual location of the academic department. The academic department is a critical but understudied context of academic work. The work that occurs within departmental contexts includes both incidental daily routines and long-term engagement in professional practice throughout academic careers. An analytical and theoretical focus on the department allows for a closer investigation of within-department trends as well as the individual experiences of faculty members within shared contexts (Pifer, 2011). Focusing on these experiences represents a level of analysis that is different from structural considerations at the institutional, disciplinary, and national levels, and enriches knowledge of broad trends of discrimination, inequity, and chilly climates (Acker & Armenti, 2004). It allows for a micro-level analysis of career patterns across characteristics based on the task-based patterns of interaction within this context of academic work, which offers a different perspective from broad outcomes such as attainment of employ- ment, tenure, and promotion. While many firsthand accounts of women academics’ experiences are rooted in departmental contexts (e.g., Easton, 2012; Scantlebury, 2002), few recent studies of departmental work have narrowed in on gender or networks as explanatory constructs in considering departmental tasks and collegial ties. Additionally, while most campus climate studies include consideration of gender, Hart and Fellabaum (2008) demonstrated that few rely on qualitative or mixed-methods approaches to understanding faculty experiences and few refine the institutional lens to consider the departmental context.

This article explores the nature of relationships in departmental contexts as gendered orga- nizations and the role of gender in participants’ interactions with departmental colleagues through a mixed-methods exploration of the intradepartmental networks of 19 faculty members. This includes documenting patterns of interaction and perceptions of colleagues, and unintended or unrecognized gender biases in collegial relationships. By studying the networks of both men and women within the same departments and among the same sets of colleagues, it was possible to conduct a comparative analysis of participants’ perceptions of and interactions with depart- mental colleagues and the resources exchanged with them.

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