Understanding the Role of Organizational Factors in Shaping the Research Careers of Women Academics in Higher Education

By Ion, Georgeta | Journal of New Approaches in Educational Research, July 2014 | Go to article overview

Understanding the Role of Organizational Factors in Shaping the Research Careers of Women Academics in Higher Education


Ion, Georgeta, Journal of New Approaches in Educational Research


1 INTRODUCTION

1.1 Factors influencing the research careers

Research activity has been identified as one of the most important academic activities (Hobson, Jones & Deane, 2005) with significant studies being done by researchers in the field of educational organization. The authors' attention was focused on the performance indicators of academic staffengaged in research activities (e.g. Bruneau & Savage, 2002; Morley, 2003), including such aspects as number of publications, budgets for research projects, and the dissemination of results. All these factors can become significant in determining promotion to higher professional levels, or obtaining professional prestige.

While the literature shows that some progress has been made with regard to the level of women's participation in higher education, a distinct gender-based differentiation of roles still exists within universities (Sagaria & Agans, 2006; Smeby & Try, 2005). For example, it has been suggested that women are more commonly associated with teaching activities while men are more likely to achieve recognition both for their research and for their management abilities (Bagilhole, 2007; Tomàs, Duran, Guillarmon & Lavie, 2008). Other issues arise too concerning the different circumstances that lead women to have lower research productivity levels (Walby & Olsen, 2002) and the identification of the obstacles faced by women in their research careers. Among these obstacles stands out the fact that women have less confidence in their own skills and do not enjoy the same degree of access to academic networks as men (Doherty & Manfredi, 2005). Women consequently have less access to funding for research (Lafferty & Fleming, 2000) and have fewer resources and fewer research staff(Toren, 1993).

Despite the obstacles mentioned above, there are successful women academics and some of them have achieved considerable professional recognition. It is enlightening to identify the factors which are instrumental in enabling female academics to succeed. Whereas obstacles to success have been widely researched, little research has been conducted into the factors associated with the success of women in leadership research positions.

Some relevant studies have been published both internationally and inside Spain and Catalonia, though. Some of the significant influences identified include the study about the concept of researcher development with a special focus on female leaders (Evans, 2012), the impact of training programs and their role in promoting professional development; the importance of acquiring research skills (Devos, 2007, amongst others); and mentoring programs (Higgs, 2003; Guillarmon, 2011). Other aspects related to building a successful career are the prevailing organizational culture and the social context (Dever & Morrison, 2009).

When the factors influencing research activity are investigated, the literature usually focuses on the individual level. Most studies concentrate on the effects caused by the individual determinants of academic success upon research (e.g. Stephan & Levin, 1997). Studies on how academic research is produced therefore need to acknowledge organizational and group factors, focusing on the context where research teams operate (Stephan & Levin, 1997) and examining the way in which the quality of fellow researchers belonging to the same team or group can represent a crucial factor in the success and productivity of individuals (Carayol & Matt, 2004).

1.2 Organizational factors and their influence on the research career

Whilst a large and growing body of literature investigating the factors that influence productivity at an individual level has begun to appear, only a few studies have so far looked at research groups as factors affecting research success.

The research group represents the most characteristic organizational "micro" unit and very plastic entity with diffuse contours in some cases. …

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