Although women make up the majority of enrolled undergraduate students in many countries around the world, this percentage often diminishes after postgraduate education. Women, and especially women of colour are underrepresented in professorships or in pursuing PhDs. Of course, representation varies depending on the fields of studies with social science being more inclusive and other disciplines such as computer sciences, mathematics, or engineering lagging behind. The country in which women undertake their (postgraduate) research also matters, where for instance, women represent 63% of researchers in Bolivia but only 26% in France. However, the fact remains that while women represent a bit more than half the world population, just 30% of the world’s researchers are in fact women.
One of the reasons for this underrepresentation in higher academia is the consistent gender bias in leadership. Through persevering stereotypes rooted in the patriarchal belief that leadership requires attributes traditionally associated with masculinity, such as hostility, competitiveness or impassiveness, women are often deemed to be unqualified for leadership positions – a bias that also translates to the world of academia. Many issues occurring in academic work environments that adversely impact women have to do with the high competition in research where one may be reluctant to take a paid parental leave (mostly taken up by women as primary caregivers/caretakers). Furthermore, because of gendered norms, women tend to shy away from exhibiting their knowledge or display less confidence in their skills, making them less likely to claim promotions, such as tenure.
Recent studies find that mentoring helps students reach their goals in academia. It represents a great tool for success in academic settings because mentoring helps the less experienced to gain more knowledge through strategic advice to further advance their professional and personal life. Unfortunately, there are far too few women assuming the role of mentors for younger generations, and this can be explained in two connected ways. Firstly, the higher ranks of education are still primarily dominated by white cishet men who mutually reinforce their dominant positions, preventing other minorities from accessing these networks. Secondly, women that have been successful despite this and who would be able to act as mentors often struggle with their work/life balance because of the housework gender gap and the mental labour that compounds it. They are thus less likely to pass on their knowledge and inspire younger women to follow in their academic footsteps. Therefore, women in academia are left with little recourse but to seek out male mentors. Given the current state of academia, there are great differences in the obstacles a man or a woman faces to be successful.
To exemplify, name five men philosophers – easy right. Now name five women philosophers – for most people, this would have been harder and this is where the problem lies.
With more women deciding to take on PhDs or professorships, research can advance and be enhanced through more feminist and inclusive approaches. This would encourage the world of academia to be more inclusive and be less bound by gender-biased assumptions about how research and the building of knowledge have to be conducted. Academia needs this richness, it needs the input of women and of minorities in general. In this way, emerging fields such as queer theory or gender studies that denounce structural issues/biases need to be praised, supported, and celebrated.