In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Gender, Power, and Politics in the Academy

  • Introduction
  • General Overview

Education Gender, Power, and Politics in the Academy
Barbara Poggio, Monia Anzivino
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 April 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 April 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0317


Gender inequality has been a long-standing issue in academia, and it remains an unresolved challenge, despite progress made in recent decades through policies implemented at various levels to foster gender equality and inclusion. Extensive scientific literature has been produced over the last thirty years from various perspectives and on different aspects of the gender gap and power asymmetries in the academic profession. Scholars have highlighted the role of many factors in producing and reproducing gender inequalities at different stages of an academic career and in different contexts. Structural and cultural factors are related to individuals, organizations, and institutional contexts, and analyses can be developed at different levels: micro, meso, and macro. It is from this analytical perspective that our bibliography moves. From the vast body of literature on gender inequality in academia, we have identified a selection of resources based on their originality, impact, and contribution to the debate. We first present references for a general overview of the topic, followed by a section on the different types of gender gaps in academia, alongside references to online resources related to data and technical analysis of gender inequalities in academia at a global level. The following sections are organized according to the level of analysis adopted. The section on micro-level perspectives presents references from studies focused on individual factors; the meso-level section includes studies looking at the organizational structures, cultures, and practices of universities and departments; while the references included in the last section—on macro-level perspectives—examine the role of policies and institutional actors. Finally, policies and plans for fostering gender equality in universities and different kinds of resistances are considered.

General Overview

There is now a large body of literature aimed at explaining gender asymmetries within academic contexts. Among these, an often-used distinction is that between supply-side and demand-side explanations (Ecklund, et al. 2012). While the former attribute the phenomenon to inherent sex differences, individual self-selection preferences, or various individual mechanisms (such as lower self-confidence, lower competitiveness, lower levels of risk-taking, greater investment in the family), the latter focus instead on the structure or environment of academic science, devoting specific attention to prejudices present in organizations or society more generally, cultural and institutional barriers, and resistance to change at both levels. A further interpretative categorization is one that identifies three different levels of analysis: micro, meso, and macro. In this perspective, within the academic world, gender operates both at the individual level (micro) of interactions and relationships that are established between individuals; in the workplace as well as in the family sphere (meso); and at the level of social structures, such as the structure of the labor market, policies, and social norms/values (macro) (Bozzon, et al. 2018; Sümer 2020). Other interpretative contributions instead propose the adoption of even more articulated interpretative lenses, identifying a plurality of levels. For example, O’Connor, et al. 2015 identifies five different explanation levels: individual (socialization, entitlement), interactional (othering, patronizing), organizational (structure and culture), systemic (relationship with the state), and wider institutional cultural level (cultural stereotypes).

  • Bozzon, Rossella, Annalisa Murgia, and Barbara Poggio. 2018. Gender and precarious careers in academia and research: Macro, meso and micro perspectives. In Gender and precarious research careers. Edited by Annalisa Murgia and Barbara Poggio, 15–49. London: Routledge.

    This chapter identifies three main levels of analysis in order to study gender asymmetries in academic careers (particularly early-career): institutional (macro), organizational (meso), and subjective (micro).

  • Ecklund, Elaine Howard, Anne E. Lincoln, and Cassandra Tansey. 2012. Gender segregation in elite academic science. Gender & Society 26.5: 693–717.

    DOI: 10.1177/0891243212451904

    Gender imbalances in academic and research contexts have been explained through two main perspectives: the supply side (according to which the underrepresentation of women is caused by inherent gender differences) and the demand side (pointing to the structure or environment of academic science). The authors apply this categorization to the analysis of the reasons academic scientists give for the differences in the distribution of women in biology and physics.

  • O’Connor, Pat, Teresa Carvalho, Agnete Vabø, and Sónia Cardoso. 2015. Gender in higher education: A critical review. In The Palgrave international handbook of higher education policy and governance. Edited by Jeroen Huisman, Harry Boer, David D. Dill, and Manuel Souto-Otero, 569–585. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-137-45617-5_30

    This chapter is focused on different explanations for gender inequality in higher education. Five levels of analysis are identified: individual (e.g., socialization, entitlement), interactional (“othering,” patronizing), organizational (e.g., structure and culture), systemic (e.g., the relationship with the state), and the wider institutional cultural level (e.g., cultural stereotypes).

  • Sümer, Sevil, ed. 2020. Gendered academic citizenship: Issues and experiences. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

    This volume, focused on the construct of gendered academic citizenship, provides a review of the literature on gendered processes in academia organized through three distinct but interrelated levels of analysis: the systemic, the organizational, and the individual/interactional.

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