Women Faculty in Higher Education: A Case Study on Gender Bias

Article excerpt


University faculty are involved in a wide array of demanding work including teaching, scholarly activity, and professional service. Houston, Meyer and Paewai (2006) address the complexity of that work in the environment of academia. The functions of knowledge creation and knowledge transmission through research and teaching is stressed by Romainville (1996). Although administrators may have the same written standards for all faculty, women seem to share the perception of a difference between the way male and female faculty members are treated in the work environment and this perception impacts them professionally. Women perceive that the quality of their work is more scrutinized and valued less than men's and believe there are more constraints placed on women because of home responsibilities. Added to that is the perception that familial responsibilities limit career advancement and fragment career growth. Williams (2004) cites the fact that women's lack of progress in academia is well documented. Although there has been an increase of women who are tenured or on tenure-track in higher education, they are still underrepresented in many departments, colleges, and universities according to the Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession published by the American Association of University Professors (2010). Women continue to be treated differently than their male counterparts.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this pilot study was to determine women university faculty perceptions in a particular higher education climate. Through the use of a survey instrument, female faculty perceptions were ascertained regarding their beliefs of the value of their work and productivity, possible differences in treatment based on gender, constraints put on women because of responsibilities in the home, and potential limitations on their career.

Literature Review

A condensed literature review is included for this study because of the wealth of information provided and the studies completed in academia on the perceptions of female faculty. Riger, Stokes, Raja, and Sullivan (1997) examined the relationship of how the proportion of women in a department relates to perceived supportiveness through open-ended interview questions with 20 female faculty members. The questions were based on the five dimensions previously identified by Stokes, Riger, and Sullivan in 1995. As a result, in combination with a review of the literature, a list of 200 items, were created. Using a Likert scale to measure after a pilot sample of faculty responded, items were revised. Almost 1,300 surveys were administered at 69 colleges and universities, 67 in the United States and two in Canada. Both men and women responded between the ages of 27 and 91 with a dominant Anglo ethnicity. Demographics showed that 98% were employed full time and 63% were tenured or in a tenure-track position. Findings indicated that the proportion of women in a department is related to women's perceptions of the environment and departments with fewer women were seen as hostile. Toren and Klaus (1987) examined the degree to which the numbers of women in a workplace related to the size of the workplace and found a direct relationship between equitability of treatment and smallness of workplace size. Women perceive the existence of inequality between men and women.

Several studies found that women spent more time teaching than on research in comparison to male faculty (Bellas and Toutkoushian 1999; Park 1996; Russell, Fairweather, Hendrickson, and Zimbler, 1991; Menges and Exum 1983). The literature (Joeckel and Chesnes 2009; Williams 2004; Watkins, Gillaspie and Bullare 1996) further provided survey ideas that, when adapted, could be used in this study. Although there are many articles focusing on gender bias, there are a dearth about the constraints many women faculty in higher education experience (Williams 2004). …