Wednesday 23 Jan 2019 | 19:55 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 23 Jan 2019 | 19:55 | SYDNEY

Women also know stuff: Ask them


8 March 2016 16:18

By Emily Beaulieu, associate professor of political science, University of Kentucky and Kathleen Searles, assistant professor of political communication, Louisiana State University.

This has been a particularly busy election cycle for political science academics in the United States. Far from standard fare, we have the rise of celebri-candidate Donald Trump, the demise of establishment candidates, and a nomination contest between a self-proclaimed socialist and a woman.  Journalists and pundits debate the correct interpretation of polls, the implications of primary turnout, and the politics of an anxious public — conversations that political scientists are often called to weigh in on. 

These conversations enable academics to communicate the science of politics and add to public discourse.  Yet in these conversations, women may often be left out. This exclusion can send the audience a subtle, but consequential, cue: Women aren’t credible experts.

Gender gaps persist in many facets of political science. Most clearly, for example, men outnumber women faculty.

At first glance, these gaps might appear to provide sufficient explanation for why women are less likely to be called on to serve as experts within the profession and beyond. Yet, closer examination of scholarly metrics like publication and promotion suggest the under-representation of women as experts is not merely a function of numbers.  Rather, a combination of implicit gender biases and network effects may lay the foundation for women’s absence in expert discussions, and ultimately lead to a skewed perception of experts as men. 

Given that implicit bias can be cyclical, it seems inadequate to laugh off 'manels' or grumble about 'mansplaining'.  So we did what political scientists do best: we looked to the research. It shows women in political science do not attain tenure and other promotions at the same rates as men, even when controlling for multiple relevant factors. More recently, data show women are under-represented in the top journals in the discipline.

There is also a gap in perceived and actual influence in the discipline.  A survey of international relations (IR) faculty revealed only two women included in the 'top 25' IR scholars in the past 20 years, consistent with work finding women are underrepresented on a list of the 400 most cited political scientists.  More  analysis indicates that IR journal articles authored by women are cited 20% less than articles by men. 

Furthermore, a network analysis reveals that, articles authored by women are not just cited less, but are less likely to be cited in other influential articles.  Other research on IR journals reports further gendered citation patterns — male-authored articles and mixed-gender authorship produce bibliographies that are 9-11% women authors, while female-authored articles’ bibliographies contain upwards of 21% women authors.

Women also have different experiences when it comes to service and teaching: Women do more low-status service work than men. Women face 'gender devaluation' when they hold leadership positions, where the status of a position is downplayed.  Experimental research shows women are at a clear disadvantage in terms of student evaluations of teaching.  Observational research reveals women who are willing to conform to expectations based on gender stereotypes receive ratings on par with men.  Other work (also here) finds women spend more time with students outside of class but receive ratings for accessibility equivalent to those of male faculty.  

The gaps we see in service and teaching reveal the inherent biases women face in this profession, which have important implications for perceptions of expertise.  Additional time spent on service or with students is time away from research that would enhance expertise.  Furthermore, conforming to stereotypical expectations of being nurturing undercuts a women’s ability to be perceived as an expert

To help overcome these biases and entrenched network effects, we started a website, #WomenAlsoKnowStuff to offer an accessible database of women experts in political science.  We were frustrated over recent news articles and symposia excluding women political scientists so we wanted to make it easier to find them. 

Within a few hours of launching the site the response was overwhelming.  It was clear we had identified a need for women in academia broadly as requests poured in from women in various fields all over the world.  At the same time, journalists and other political scientists wrote to thank us for the site and indicate how they were using it to identify experts, cites, and expand their networks.

We have decided to focus on what we know best, political science, but we hope our efforts will encourage our colleagues across disciplines.  We have now designed a new website that is easier to use, and we are pursuing external funding to ensure the longevity of the site and our efforts. 

Several programs have been developed to address gender gaps in political science and academia, such as: Journeys in World Politics, Visions in Methodology (VIM), and the CeMent program in Economics.  To the extent that these programs work to increase women’s productivity, we can hope for positive effects on promotion, tenure, and citation, which over-time may shift perceptions of who the experts are. 

Still, we know that gender bias persists even when we account for objective metrics associated with research productivity.  Waiting for women to gradually accrue more status and influence in the profession is not sufficient and a more disruptive approach may be warranted.  Our goal — the success of which we plan to evaluate systematically — is for #WomenAlsoKnowStuff to amplify the voices of women in political science, all over the world.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Queens University

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