Tips for Women on Working in a Male-Dominated Academic Fields

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Career advice

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Career advice


Tips for women on working in a male-dominated academic fields

Academia can be a tough environment for women to succeed in. In many departments, men outnumber women in the senior ranks and this can result in a variety of gender-based prejudices and problems that women have to navigate. Here are some tips for women working in male-dominated academic fields: 

1. Sexual harassment is a real problem. Sexual harassment is a major problem for women all across the working world, including in academia. Overly handsy male colleagues, senior professors making inappropriate sexual comments,  or a 'boy's club' atmosphere where women are demeaned or sidelined are all unfortunate realities that women have to put up with. At worst, this can extend to sexual assault or rape. Remember that it is never acceptable for a man to make you feel unsafe, especially at a work event, and you don't have to tolerate disgusting behaviour. Stay strong, and if you feel safe enough, say “No”, “Stop”, “Don't touch me”, or “That's inappropriate” loudly and clearly. It can help to have a trusted friend nearby at events who you can stick with and who can come and back you up if a man is making you feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

2. Talk over interruptions. It has been well established that men interrupt women more than they interrupt other men, and that women interrupt people of all genders less. This means that if you want to hold the floor and you want your point to be heard, that you'll have to talk over interruptions. This will feel rude at first, but remember that it is actually others who are being rude by interrupting you. You don't have to stop talking every time someone tries to talk over you. Feel free to be assertive and to raise your voice somewhat so you can keep steamrolling when a man starts talking before you are done. In formal events like debates or panel discussions, a gender-aware moderator can help to support women by censuring men who interrupt.

3. Shut down mansplaining. One of the most frustrating aspects of being a woman with expertise is having men assume that they know better than you do about your own subject. It happens to almost every woman at some point that a clueless man will try to explain a topic to her which she already knows more about than he does. Feel free to shut this down, as you needn't humour mansplainers. A curt “I already know that” and an unimpressed look will go a long way to convey that such patronising behaviour is not welcome.

4. Don't let men assign you 'grunt work'. In academia, there is a lot of work that needs to be done but which isn't high profile or considered to be important. This includes tasks like serving on committees, working in admissions, student supervision, university evaluations, and greeting guests or making a round of tea for meetings. Academics do not receive extra pay for this work and it is not considered relevant for evaluations or promotions in the way that teaching or research is. Unsurprisingly, this burden of this service work falls disproportionately on women. It is good to want to be helpful and supportive in your department, but do not volunteer for this type of work and push back if you think that you are being assigned more of it than your male colleagues. Doing this type of work will not help your career and you shouldn't have to take on more of it just because you are a woman.

5. Remember that women are judged more harshly than men are for the same behaviours. It is well established that the same behaviour is read vastly different when it comes from a woman than when it comes from a man. Men are “assertive” while women are “bossy”, and men are “persistent” while women are “nagging”. These differences in judgement are especially obvious in academic contexts which requires vigorous debate, and can have a big impact on work evaluations and promotions. Especially if you are in a leadership position, be prepared for a sexist backlash against your management style and decisions.

6. Learn about imposter syndrome. A common issue that affects women in academia is imposter syndrome, in which even though a person is qualified and competent at their job, they still feel like a fraud or an imposter. This can really hold women back from professional growth, so learn about this issue and try to identify when it might be affecting you.

7. Find other women to connect with. One of the biggest problems that women working in male-dominated fields experience is feeling isolated and misunderstood. Seeking out other women in your field can help you to feel less alone and to have someone to share your frustrations with. Look out for women's networking or mentoring events where you can meet other women working in your field. Finally, remember that if you are a woman in a male-dominated field and you are struggling personally or professionally, then you are not alone. Gender inequality is still a major problem in all fields of academia, so if you are having a hard time then you are not the only one. Try to surround yourself with other women who can support you.

We'll be covering more topics related to gender and academia soon, so check back to INOMICS.com soon for more.


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