Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Gender Microaggressions in Higher Education: Proposed Taxonomy and Change through Cognitive-Behavioral Strategies

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Gender Microaggressions in Higher Education: Proposed Taxonomy and Change through Cognitive-Behavioral Strategies

Article excerpt

The representation of women in higher education

Every year, the Chronicle of Higher Education devotes an issue to facts about higher education across the United States. The most recent issue (August 31, 2007, Volume 54, Number 1) characterized women in higher education as follows: Women comprise 57.4% of enrolled students, (1) 57.4% of bachelor's degree recipients, and 48.8% of doctorate degree recipients. Women comprise 38.1% of all full-time faculty; the proportion of women decreases from a high of 48.7% in public 2-year colleges to a low of 31.1% in private doctoral universities. (2) Presidents are 23% female. Data on gender representation in non-presidential leadership positions in the academy are more difficult to find. However, using somewhat dated information, women held 27% of dean and 15% of provost positions (Berryman-Fink, et al. 2003). The majority of women presidents and provosts serve at lower status (e.g., community college) and/or small institutions; women leaders are present in small numbers at doctoral/research universities. The diminishing proportion of women who advance from undergraduate to doctoral education; earn doctorates; enter the academy; advance in the academy; and lead the academy as shown in Figure 1 has been referred to the 'leaky pipeline' (Mason and Goulden 2002), 'off-ramps' (Hewlett 2007), and other structural metaphors; that is, women are represented in decreasing proportions as one ascends up the academic hierarchy. The proportion of women who are qualified to hold leadership positions is much larger than the proportion of women who hold leadership positions (Committee on the Guide to Recruiting and Advancing Women Scientists and Engineers in Academia and Committee on Women in Science and Engineering 2006).

A plethora of evidence points to factors other than--or at least in addition to--a lack of women in the pipeline (Carli and Eagly 2001) (or work-family conflict, or other explanations that have been put forth, see summary by Settles, et al. 2006) to explain the lack of representation of women in leadership positions in the academy. The 'glass ceiling' (Carli and Eagly 2001; Ridgeway 2001) is a more appropriate metaphor for limitations in higher education secondary to gender discrimination. Gender discrimination against women is alive and well in many forms in the academy: it hinders advancement, and accounts for some of the gender disparity in leadership positions (Heilman 2001).

Gender discrimination in the academy

The nature of modern gender discrimination and other forms of contemporary discrimination and prejudice (Dovidio 2001) has been described as covert, subtle, automatic, unintentional, unconscious, and pervasive (Heilman 2001; Sue, et al. 2007). A number of other terms have been used to describe subtle gender discriminatory events or their collective effect: chilly climate (Hall and Sandler 1982); microaggressions (Solorzano, et al. 2000; Sue, et al. 2007); microinequities (Benokraitis 1998); and selective incivility (Cortina in press).

A comprehensive review of the large experimental literature that supports the ubiquitous nature of gender-based discrimination in the academy (and elsewhere) is beyond the scope of this paper (see Valian 1998). Conclusions from this literature include: there are stereotypic characteristics and behaviors associated with gender; and women are not associated with 'leader,' 'scientist,' or other descriptors and their related behaviors that are relevant for advancement in the academy. These stereotypes exist in entrenched implicit (not consciously endorsed) forms (Nosek, et al. 2002), and include both descriptive (what women are like) and prescriptive (what women should do) characteristics (Heilman 2001). Descriptive gender stereotypes include less expectation for success, competence, leadership, result in biased evaluations, that in turn slow or halt advancement for women. For example, female postdoctoral applicants to Sweden's Medical Research Research Council (MRC) had to accrue an impact score (an objective measure based on the addition of all of each applicant's publication's impact factors) 3-5 times higher than male postdoctoral applicants to achieve equivalent subjective competency ratings by the MRC reviewers (Wenneras and Wold 1997). …

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