Why do women succeed in higher education—but only to a certain point? This research explores the activities that academics undertake to develop their careers, and how women access ‘indicators of esteem’ to progress, with a focus on the key activity of PhD supervision. In terms of PhD supervision, women generally feel that men had greater opportunities and found access to this ‘indicators of esteem’ more easily. Many women also had ambivalent feelings about gaining recognition through supervision: they understood the importance of status and knew the ‘rules of the game’, but were critical of how PhD supervision could be used to capitalise on students’ work.
Several decades of research have demonstrated that women continue to be under-represented in senior positions in higher education (Morley 2014; Dean et al 2009; White et al 2011; Doherty & Manfredi 2006). Eighty per cent of professors in the UK are men, whereas the only academic category where women are in the majority is part-time non-managerial roles (Equality Challenge Unit, 2013). Despite this, higher education institutions can often be “complacent about what has been achieved for staff and hence, to think that ‘gender’ is solved by having a majority of female undergraduates and a few female professors” (Deem, 2014; see also David, 2014; Leathwood and Reid, 2009).
While there are signs of improvement in some areas, others remain static or are worsening. For example, there is concern that the proportion of women at Vice-Chancellor level is on the decline (Bebbington 2012), while this year only two of the forty-three mid-career scientists awarded Royal Society University Research Fellowships were women (Royal Society 2015). These gender imbalances are compounded by wider forms of inequality and representation on the basis of ‘race’, socio-economic status, nationality, ethnic group, disability, religion, and geographic region (Banks 2002). The Equality Challenge Unit (2013) highlights the stark statistic that only 2.8% of Black and Ethnic Minority female academics are professors, in comparison to the 15.9% of white male academics who are professors (see also David 2014).
Previous research on motivation have highlighted the role of prestige in hiring and promotion decisions. The term ‘prestige economy’(English, 2005) is used to describe the collection of beliefs, values and behaviours that characterise and express what a group of people prizes highly. However, prestige is a gendered concept: academic women find it harder to access the types of ‘currency’ that advance their career, such as first author status and PhD supervision (Coate & Kandiko Howson, 2016).
The research explores how women access the opportunity for PhD supervision and how they view the role of supervision in their career development and planning (Johnson et al 2000). While focusing primarily on gender, it draws on feminist theories of intersectionality to consider multiple forms of identity including how culture, nationality, ethnicity, gender, disability, socio-economic status and language interact (Crenshaw 1991).
Banks, J. A. (2002) An Introduction to multicultural education (3rd ed.) Boston: Allyn & Bacon. Bebbington, D. (2012) Revisiting diversity in leadership. In Practice (Leadership Foundation for Higher Education). Issue 31. Berger, M. T., and Guidroz, K. (eds.) (2009). The intersectional approach: Transforming the academic through race, class, and gender. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press. Blackmore, P. and Kandiko, C.B. (2011). Motivation in academic life: A prestige economy. Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 16(4), 399-411. Coate, K. and Kandiko Howson, C. (2016) Indicators of esteem: Gender and prestige in academic work, British Journal or Sociology of Education. Crenshaw, K. W. (1991) Mapping the margins: intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. Stanford Law Review, 1241 -1299. David, M.E. (2014) Feminism, gender and universities: Politics, passion & pedagogies (London: Ashgate) Dean, D.R., Bracken, S.J. and Allen, J.K. (Eds) (2009) Women in academic leadership: Professional strategies, personal choices. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing. Deem, R. (2014) Women and success (book review), Journal of Education Policy, 30(1): 146-148. English, J.F. 2005. The economy of prestige. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Equality Challenge Unity (2013) Equality in higher education: Statistical report 2013, part 1: Staff, London: Equality Challenge Unit. Hoskins, K. (2012) Women and success: professors in the UK academy. Staffordshire. Trentham Books. Jones, S. R. (2009). Constructing identities at the intersections: An autoethnographic exploration of multiple dimensions of identity. Journal of College Student Development, 50(3), 287-304. Johnson, L., Lee, A., & Green, B. (2000). The PhD and the autonomous self: Gender, rationality and postgraduate pedagogy. Studies in Higher education, 25(2), 135-147. Kandiko, C. B. & Kinchin, I. M. (2012). What is a doctorate? A concept-mapped analysis of process versus product in the supervision of lab-based PhDs. Educational Research, 54(1), 3-16. Kandiko, C. B. & Kinchin, I. M. (2013). Developing discourses of knowledge and understanding: Longitudinal studies of PhD supervision. London Review of Education, in press. Leathwood, C. & Reid, B. (2009) Gender and the changing face of higher education. SRHE/OUP. Morley, L. (2014) Lost leaders: Women in the global academy. Higher Education Research and Development, 33(1): 114-128. Royal Society (2015) Gender balance among university research fellows, In Verba, http://blogs.royalsociety.org/in-verba/2014/09/24/gender-balance-among-university-research-fellows/ Scharff, C. (forthcoming) Blowing your own trumpet: exploring the gendered dynamics of self-promotion in the classical music profession. The Sociological Review 63: 97-112.
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