Perspectives on Politics

Research Article

Gender Equality in Academia: Bad News from the Trenches, and Some Possible Solutions

Kristen Monroea1, Saba Ozyurta1, Ted Wrigleya1 and Amy Alexandera1

a1 University of California at Irvine


Is there gender discrimination in academia? Analysis of interviews with 80 female faculty at a large Research One university—the most comprehensive qualitative data set generated to date—suggests both individual and institutional discrimination persists. Overt discrimination has largely given way to less obvious but still deeply entrenched inequities. Despite apparent increases in women in positions of authority, discrimination continues to manifest itself through gender devaluation, a process whereby the status and power of an authoritative position is downplayed when that position is held by a woman, and through penalties for those agitating for political change. Female faculty find legal mechanisms and direct political action of limited utility, and increasingly turn to more subtle forms of incremental collective action, revealing an adaptive response to discrimination and a keen sense of the power dynamics within the university. Women attributed the persistence of gender inequality not to biology but to a professional environment in which university administrators care more about the appearance than the reality of gender equality and a professional culture based on a traditional, linear male model. Respondents described heart-wrenching choices between career and family responsibilities, with tensions especially intractable in the bench sciences. They advocated alternative models of professional life but also offered very specific interim suggestions for institutions genuinely interested in alleviating gender inequality and discrimination.


Kristen Monroe is Professor of Political Science and Philosophy at the University of California at Irvine and the Director of UCI's Interdisciplinary Center for the Scientific Study of Ethics and Morality. Saba Ozyurt, Ted Wrigley, and Amy Alexander are graduate students in the Department of Political Science at the University of California at Irvine. Any large, multi-year project involves many people, and space limitations require us to thank only those who provided the most significant assistance here. Our main debt is to the many kind female scholars at UCI who so graciously offered us their time, candor, trust, feedback, and stories. The Spencer Foundation and the UCI NSF ADVANCE grant provided generous financial assistance. The Directors and staff of the UCI NSF Advance provided names of female faculty, with the cooperation of the Executive Vice Chancellor's Office. Dean Barbara Dosher donated space and technical support for the project. Sandrine Zerbib and Lina Kreidie helped with survey design and conducted interviews early in the project. Casey Dzuong, Wendy Yang, Carolyn Dang, and Eunice Kim transcribed interviews. Joanna Scott, Lisa Frehill, Judith Baer, and the anonymous referees at Perspectives on Politics provided extremely helpful comments, as did participants in seminars on this topic at the meetings of the American Political Science Association and the International Society of Political Psychology. The ongoing controversial nature of gender equality is attested to by the fact that the first journal to which we submitted this manuscript refused even to send it out for review because the topic was not deemed sufficiently political.