Women in Academia: 5 Steps To Your Career Success

Women in Academia: 5 Steps To Your Career Success

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Despite great progress that has been made in recent years in making academia more friendly for women, it still remains hard for women to be accepted and to excel in many academic institutions. Many women in academia, especially those in male-dominated fields, report that they find it more difficult to be taken seriously and more difficult to get promotions to senior roles than the men in their departments. So what can you do to maximise your career prospects as a woman working in an academic setting? Here our our tips to help women achieve career success.

Networking, mentorship, and support from other women

Networking is an important skill for any academic, but for women it is particularly value as it gives you “behind the scenes” access to senior researchers, committees, and institutional decision makers. Keep an eye out for networking events – some universities will even have events or groups specifically for woman's networking – and take every chance to get to introduce yourself and get to know other women in your field.

The support you can receive from other women isn't just about career prospects, it can also be useful to hear about the obstacles and problems that other women have faced and how they overcame them. Look out for mentorship schemes and other programs designed to bring you into contact with academics in different stages of their careers.

Promote yourself

One important skill you will need to learn as a woman in academia is self-promotion. Academics are often uncomfortable with blowing their own horns, and women especially so, as it can feel like you are being arrogant or too forward. However, if you don't promote yourself, it's unlikely that anyone else will do it for you!

You don't have to be arrogant or pushy, but make sure that you get credit for your work, such as making sure that you name is on an important report which you have written. If someone mentions a topic in your area of expertise, say that it's your field and be confident in positioning yourself as an expert. Finally, feel free to mention papers or books which you have written on a topic when it comes up in conversation. Putting yourself forward in these ways might feel awkward at first, but it will help your career for other people to see and acknowledge your expertise.

Watch out for imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome is the name given to feelings of inadequacy and insecurity which are found even among highly successful women. Even when women have a proven track record of success in their jobs, they may feel like they don't really deserve the recognition that they get, and that other people will see through them and expose them as inadequate for their jobs: They feel like imposters in their own fields.

This syndrome is shockingly common in academia, with women often privately remarking that they are not up to standard. One of the ways to combat this syndrome is just to be aware of it, and to remember that when you start to doubt yourself or your abilities that this is not necessarily reflective of reality, and that it is something which many other women struggle with too.

Family friendliness

A big problem for women in lots of careers including academia is the degree of family-friendliness which their institutions provide. Some universities have very progressive policies regarding maternity and paternity leave and on-site childcare, while at other institutions new parents are left to fend for themselves. One big advantage of a career in academia is that flexible working hours are common – if you need to work 3 days a week, or to leave early to pick up a child from school, this is usually possible.

Ask around about the family policies of your institution, and don't forget to talk to current parents working there for a real-world perspective on how the policies work out in practice. In fact, even if you don't plan to have a family, it's still useful to know this information as family-friendliness can be a good indicator of how women are treated in general at an institution.

Pay it forward

If you want to improve working conditions for women in academia, you can help by offering mentorship to women who are at an earlier stage of their career than you. If you can remember the frustrations and difficulties which you came across as a junior researcher, you may be well-positioned to help other women experiencing the same issues. Your university may have a women-specific mentoring program or a general mentoring program which you could offer your services for – but don't underestimate the power of informal mentoring too.

Giving a few words of encouragement to junior women and sharing some of your knowledge and experience with them will not only help their careers, but it can help yours too. Being known as an expert who share their knowledge puts you in an excellent position, and the achievements of the women who you mentor will reflect well on you as well as helping them.

See more tips for academics, including career advice, here:

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