5 Biggest Problems That Women Face At Academic Conferences
Attending conferences is an important part of any academic career. However, they can provide challenges that women in academia must overcome. Here are five of the biggest problems which women face at academic conferences.
1.Being less likely to be accepted to present than men
It's a sad fact that gender discrimination is still rife in academia, and conferences are no exception to this. Studies have found that submissions of papers to present at a conference were rated as less good when the author had an identifiably female name than when the same paper was submitted but no author name was given. The evidence suggests that this problem is particularly pronounced in fields which are more male-dominated. The lack of women presenting at conferences leads to a perception that there are no women working in the field, and this lack of representation is harmful to others, especially women who are just starting out in their careers. Some conferences now mandate a certain proportion of their speakers be women, to help mitigate this effect.
2.Being taken less seriously than men during discussions
Another common finding of gender bias in conferences is regarding the amount of exposure which men and women get. Even when equal numbers of men and women are participating in a discussion, women speak for less time than men and are less likely to ask for longer time slots when they present. In fact, studies estimate that women spend about 20% less time talking than men do. This has broad implications for women in academia as it has been shown that exposure at conferences increases the visibility of a researcher's work, so women are missing out on the opportunity to boost their profile.
3.Issues with the dress code
It may sound silly, but the expected standards of attire can pose a real problem for women at academic conferences. It's generally expected that people will dress a little more formally than usual for a conference, however, in lots of fields it's no big deal if a man chooses to wear casual clothes. For women, however, it's trickier. If a woman dresses in a casual way, she risks people assuming that she doesn't take her job seriously or that she's unprofessional. However, if she dresses up too much then people may judge her as shallow, vain, or out of touch. It's difficult for women to strike a balance where they are perceived as being dressed appropriately. The best way to deal with this is to observe the norms of the field and of the conference – what are other women wearing? - and then try to match your style to that.
4.Balancing social and professional responsibilities
Academic conferences are important for career prospects, not just because you get to learn about the latest research and debate it with others in your field, but also because of the opportunities they present for networking and making social connections with other academics. As such, it's arguably just as important to go to the conference dinner as it is to attend the keynote lecture. So you need to be able to present yourself in social contexts as well as professional ones. Unfortunately, this is another area where women are judged more harshly than men – a woman who is not sociable enough is consider cold and distant, while one who is very friendly risks being labelled as flirtatious or ditzy. One way to combat this is to make an effort to talk to other women at social events and to support each other socially as well as professionally.
It's an uncomfortable truth that sexual harassment of women at academic conferences continues to happen, and it is often severely under-reported and not taken seriously when it is reported. Experiencing or observing sexual harassment undermines women's confidence in their safety and comfort in academic settings, and can bring up feelings of inadequacy, betrayal, and loss of confidence. Some conferences are now instigating codes of conduct and anti-harassment policies to combat this problem. When conference organisers make clear what types of behaviour are unacceptable, it is easier for women to see clearly when they are being harassed. However, it's important that the system for reporting harassment at conferences is also made explicitly clear and is respected by all participants.
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