Feb 27, 2020

Gender gap in academia persists

When professor Yupeng Luo joined the Lyles College of Engineering in 2008, she was told that the number of female faculty in the college had just doubled as a result of her admittance. Seven years later, that number again has doubled to five female faculty members, an addition, she says, that is sorely needed within the academic community.

In 2014, there were 707 total faculty members with an academic rank of professor at Fresno State. Of these professors, 317 were women and 390 were men, according to data from Fresno State’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness.

There is no doubt that women are still disproportionately represented in academia, with men getting more advanced degrees, especially in subjects like computer science and physics.

But a new study published in Science Magazine this month suggests that fields that favor men in both the sciences and humanities have one cultural bias in common: they value perceived innate brilliance over hard work and dedication. A brilliance, the magazine says, that is stereotypically assigned to white males above all others.

Kait Sims, a junior economics major, says that she’s clearly noticed a gender gap present in her major, a major with foundational economists like John Stuart Mill or Jeremy Bentham that are predominantly white, male, European or American.

The majority of students in her class, Sims said, have been respectful of her rights and opinions. Yet in a field clearly dominated by men, Sims says, it’s not hard to feel disheartened.

“Without a doubt, gender stereotypes still exist,” Sims said.  “All you have to do is walk around campus and you’ll see that. We have a female majority at Fresno State, but you still see the traditionally male-dominated fields as well as female-dominated fields.”

“It’s not about meeting quotas,” Sims said. “It’s about encouraging students to reach their potential regardless of gender.”

Luo, who teaches construction management at Fresno State, agrees with this misrepresentation. Out of the four classes she taught last year, Luo said, there was only one female student.

“Albert Einstein once said, ‘Genius is 1 percent talent and 99 percent hard work.’ I can’t agree more,” Luo said. “Innate brilliance or talent does work wonders sometimes, but it wouldn’t set someone apart from his/her peers unless the hard work is in place regardless of race and gender.”

Over a decade ago, Luo worked in China at a large general contractor’s branch office. Out of 200 employees, she was one of only two female engineers. Needless to say, she said, she didn’t stay long.

“When I came to the U.S. for grad school, I was very happy to meet many female grad students in our research groups at both Pittsburg State and Pennsylvania State,” Luo said. “That fact alone made me feel I belonged.”

Sam Hartanto, a junior chemistry major, regularly volunteers with a science outreach program on campus. She says that although the chemistry department has achieved a sense of gender neutrality within its population — a fairly even ratio of men to women within the department — there is still a need to build a more female-friendly culture in fields so women don’t feel so alone.

“I regularly volunteer with a science outreach program on campus called Circuit Science, and I see just as many young girls who are excited about science as there are young boys,” Hartanto said. “It’s pretty obvious that our culture pushes gender equity onto the youth, but it’s still perfectly understandable for a female to be intimidated or hesitant when entering a male-dominated field.”

“So, while our attitudes and hearts are in the right place when we encourage girls to pursue hard sciences,” Hartanto said, “actually seeing the lack of women in a certain field can counteract that encouragement.”

Thomas Holyoke, associate professor from the department of political science, says that a reason for such a rigid divide in academia may be just reflective of the numbers.

“It may be something of a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Holyoke said. “If you are a woman, and you only see men as professors and practitioners in a field, then you might be less likely to gravitate towards that field which perpetuates the same gender imbalance.”

Structurally, Holyoke noted, not only within the political science field but in Congress, the basic representation for the United States, still shockingly misrepresents its population.

“In the academic field of political science, there are many women who have made outstanding contributions,” Holyoke said.

“Two of the scholars who have made some of the most profound findings on organized citizen participation through organized interest groups and grassroots advocacy are Theda Skocpol and Kay Schlozman, both of whom are women.  The political scientist who was most inspirational to me personally, convincing me to become a professor, was Linda Fowler at Syracuse University, who now teaches at Dartmouth College.  It is true, though, that there are far fewer women in Congress than there arguably should be.  Not quite a fourth of the members of the House and Senate are women.  Indeed, it was only a couple of years ago that a woman’s restroom was installed in the House of Representatives.”

Biology professor Julie Constable, noted the biological factor at play for women who pursue higher careers and education, having to juggle pregnancy, child rearing and jobs. This aspect, she says, will never change, but hopes that programs that make it easier for women to have multiple roles will increase, such as on-campus childcare, flexible work schedules and departmental support for family issues.

“If anything, as opportunities continue to expand for women in science fields, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more women coming up on top of the cognitive ladder,” Constable said, “considering how our brains must be efficient at juggling so many aspects of life, including careers, families, children and their education, elderly family members, cooking and nutrition, home issues, finance, social obligations… the list goes on and on.”

Whether brilliant or busy, Holyoke says, he can’t say that he has seen any meaningful differences in the abilities of faculty by gender. He says that what remains important in continuing to push for gender equity in academia, equal voices and equal parts of the story must be heard.


“Some men and women work very hard and are dedicated, while other men and women are not,” Holyoke said.

“I think female scholars probably do bring a rather different perspective to political analysis, but if your professors are only men, you will never hear it.  You only get a part of the story.”


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