As a woman preparing to apply for graduate school, I am confronted with a serious dilemma: do I apply to PhD programs to pursue a career in academia, or am I better off working somewhere else?
Countless studies suggest that women face disadvantages in academia, from receiving fewer tenure-track positions to enduring hostile work environments that condone sexual harassment. Oftentimes, if you’re a female professor, you teach because you love to teach, and so much so that you are willing to endure an unfair workplace experience. Universities owe women conciliation, and they must address their implicit bias at the hiring level to foster the cultural changes needed to prevent sexual harassment.
Emory is no stranger to this phenomenon. Last year, the Wheel’s Editorial Board pointed out that while the University’s gender gap has diminished in the last decade, it still exceeds the national average. With such dismal prospects for women in academia, it’s a wonder that they choose to pursue work in the field at all.
According to the World Economic Forum, more women pursue postsecondary education than men, and they account for more than half of doctoral degrees earned. Despite this fact, men are tenured at a rate some 10 percent higher than women. Additionally, women make up more than 60 percent of so-called “contingent,” or adjunct, professors. The adjunct faculty position arose from past discriminatory hiring practices: when women were forbidden from working full-time as professors, they were given these part-time positions and were even snidely called “the housewives of higher education.” The fact that women still make up a majority of adjunct hires suggests that little has yet been done to end this discrimination.
Part-time positions may be helpful when trying to raise a family, especially for young female professors who have children earlier to ensure a safer pregnancy, but no one should presume that women prioritize child-rearing any more than men do. Women deserve full-time positions, and a woman should neither be defined by her role in childbearing nor should she be penalized for her decision either way.
Even when women are offered higher-level jobs, they are often paid less. In a study by the American Association of University Professors, over 90 percent of surveyed schools paid male professors more than female ones. For women of color, this disparity is even worse. White female professors earn 81 cents on the dollar compared to their white male counterparts, but this rate drops to 67 cents on the dollar for women of color.
Universities should be as transparent as possible with gender-pay gaps and hiring rates for men and women by disclosing discrepancies year to year. A recent article by Business Insider described how women have received large pay raises by asking what their male colleagues earn. By disclosing this same information each year, universities can better expedite the process of closing the pay gap by making transparent and accessible the disparity in the first place.
But universities should also address implicit bias earlier in the hiring process, because studies suggest that women are discriminated against even before they can get their foot in the door. Often, gendered discrimination starts even earlier in the hiring process. A 2015 study by the American Association of University Women suggested that interviewers favor men when reading resumes. When participants received the same resumes with either a male or female name, they rated the man higher for his “competence, hireability, and mentoring potential” compared to the woman. Women applicants are less likely to receive passionate recommendation letters than men. Recommenders often write letters that diminish their credibility, like, “she will probably do well in this job.” In contrast, their male counterparts might receive phrases like “he will do well.” With the lack of effort by academic staff members to see women succeed, a woman’s chance of earning an admin or tenure track position is essentially moot. Academic staff must be weary of their bias, and they must evaluate whether their decision not to hire a woman or not to write her a good letter of recommendation is the product of prejudice.
Without fair treatment for women in hiring practices, the idea that women are weak and naive can be easily spread, which suggests that sexual harassment will be tolerated in academic spaces. There have been dozens of stories citing gross harassment incidents since academia has spearheaded its own #MeToo campaign, most of which detail senior male professors harassing their female junior colleagues.
A pecking order already in favor of men paves the way for the grave sexual exploitation of women. In 2015, about 10 percent of women in academia surveyed said they have experienced sexual harassment, but in 2018 the rate rocketed to 58 percent. This surge in reporting is a good sign that cultural change is on the way for women academics, but universities must address the issue at its root by removing implicit bias from their hiring processes.
Universities should also reprimand male professors who have admitted to sexual harassment cases. Though Title IX may claim to protect women in academic settings, the reality of the problem is more complex, as women fear being unable to advance in their fields if they are open about their experiences. Universities may even be afraid of losing some of their top male academics who have been charged with allegations. Harvard University, for example, has kept a tight grip on Nobel Prize-winner Derek Walcott, who has admitted to sexually advancing on a student and giving her the only “C” in the class after she rejected him. But the responsibility universities have to ensure women’s safety is far greater than protecting celebrated professors.
In response to Emory’s 2016 Class and Labor Report, the Wheel’s Editorial Board recommended “the University should pursue broad diversity training and stronger mentorship programs for women and minorities” to combat implicit bias. As a member of the Board who contributed to this article, I firmly believe that these proposals are not enough to address large structural problems within academia. Though women and people of color are often passed up for academic opportunities because of implicit bias, they typically have experience comparable to those who get the jobs. But it’s up to universities to ensure they address implicit bias so that they can receive the jobs that they deserve.
Emory, along with the rest of the academic community, needs to attract more female professors. But more equitable working conditions for women are a prerequisite to that end, and universities must act accordingly by making information about the hiring process more accessible.
Shreya Pabbaraju (21C) is from Duluth, Ga.