Outskirts online journal

Jennifer de Vries

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Volume 12, October 2005

Can we say that? Gendered advantage and disadvantage in the academy

This is my story, the story of a female doctoral student. Contained within it are two stories, my research interest and my research experience. They intertwine, resonate, exemplify and gradually clarify each other. As I reflect on my somewhat naïve journeying, the more important story emerges. It is a story of how when gender is rendered invisible, gendered advantage is likewise made invisible. The status quo becomes unremarkable and dominant ideologies prevail. The ensuing gendered construction of knowledge becomes both hard to name and to resist.

Setting the scene: Changes to the research question

Draft proposal, early March
Does the gendered culture of the University systematically advantage male and disadvantage female doctoral students?

Submitted proposal, late March
Does the gendered culture of the University systematically advantage male and female doctoral students differentially?

Feedback from examining panel, first dot point, April

• Restate the major research question, which as currently stated, seems to reflect your views on what the findings of the research will be even before the research has begun.

Final Proposal, May
Does the culture of the University affect male and female doctoral students differently?

In line with the panel’s suggestions, I have removed the notion of differential advantage or disadvantage based on gender from the research question. Nonetheless I do not concede that my original formulation would have pre-empted any findings from my proposed research. Rather, I would suggest that my proposal was based on a thorough understanding of the literature and the nature of the gendered university. As a student whose course work in methodology was very creditable it was my understanding that research questions and the resultant hypotheses should be based on up-to-date analysis and understanding of the literature, and to some extent our best guess about how things might operate. Of course as researchers and particularly students we are always willing to be proven wrong. However it would be naive to submit my work to an informed examiner without any indication of which way the advantage would be expected to occur, based on an adequate analysis of the literature. I would suggest there is some squeamishness on the part of member/s of the examining panel in regard to acknowledging the body of work that clearly shows women’s disadvantage in academia. I am taking this as my starting point and applying this to a different group (doctoral students) operating within the same organisational culture. I very clearly stated that this was my approach and felt that some of the criticism levelled at my work clearly failed to acknowledge or indeed understand this point.

What prompted this cathartic post proposal defence outpouring? Why was there so much fuss about the wording of my research question, such that the notion of advantage and disadvantage was too contentious to be allowed? And now given the benefit of hindsight and elapsed time, why did I change it? Why didn’t I more vigorously defend my position?

I did, at that point, seriously reconsider my options. Of course there must be some hazards associated with researching what is basically one’s own experience. At the very least it was throwing my own experience into sharp relief. All doctoral students have crunch points. However for me, reconsidering my position had an added distressing dimension. As a female doctoral student researching the ‘gendered’ experience of doctoral students I was well placed to both notice, name and reference in the literature my own ‘gendered’ experience.

Living the gendered doctoral experience

Let me backtrack a little. I am a doctoral student in a Graduate School of Management (GSM). As part of the Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) students are required to complete research methodology coursework, a literature review and a thesis proposal prior to undertaking the thesis which constitutes 70% of the doctorate. Professional doctorates seem to attract great scrutiny and the process is vigorous, including a verbal defence of the proposal before a panel of some six or seven academics from the GSM (unlike PhD students where the proposal process is handled centrally by the University).

The text above preserves the textual compromises, however the gendered subtext became my lived experience. Not only was I experiencing difficulties with my research area and getting through the requisite academic hoops, I was also performing that endless juggling act so familiar to women: working, parenting, living and studying. It was wearing me down. Somehow for me it was more galling that my own lived experience epitomised the gendered experience of postgraduate students and junior female academics, with which I had become so familiar both through the literature and my work with women on the Leadership Development for Women programme. I can remember wailing to anyone who would listen. “I’m doing it the girl’s way, but I want to do it the boy’s way. There must be an easier way!” I can’t imagine why I expected an exemption from doing it the girl’s way. (I’m interested in why I have used the terms boy and girl here, but have faithfully replicated my earlier utterings). Having some knowledge of how gender operates within universities was not helping me solve the difficulties of my own gendered experience.

At the risk of being essentialist, let me paint a picture of the typical female doctoral student. She is older than her male counterpart 1 (Neumann 2003), more likely to be studying humanities or socials sciences 2, where scholarships and research funds are harder to come by (Carrington & Pratt 2003). She experienced a lack of academic role models (Conrad 1994; Hassall 1998), and has a less straightforward academic and career background (Groombridge 2004). She is more likely to have family (caring) commitments and to undervalue her capacity for academic study, more likely to hold one (or more) masters degrees, before proceeding on to a doctorate3. She is less likely to have a research degree, either Honours or a research Masters (Moses 1993). She is more likely to study part-time. As a researcher she is more likely to choose a research area on the edge of the discipline or one that is interdisciplinary (Leonard 2001).

It is not too difficult to find in the current Australian research literature and government reports the statistics that help to paint the picture above. What is more difficult is finding recent research exploring how this has an impact on the lived experience of female doctoral students. Currently there appears to be a remarkable lack of curiosity on the part of administrators or researchers in the postgraduate area regarding gender. My own interest and curiosity was sparked by my experience of co-ordinating the Leadership Development for Women programme for the last 7 years, as well as co-ordinating the workshop for new Postgraduate Supervisors. I had heard many women’s stories, both academic and general, over the years and had developed an increasingly sophisticated framework for understanding organisational culture and how this has had an impact on women 4. I was also familiar with the literature on Postgraduate Supervision. I had found my research gap. I was not interested in the supervisory process, but in the impact the organisational culture has on female (and male)5 doctoral students.

I was not however starting from scratch. The concept of ‘gendered advantage and disadvantage’(Eveline 1994) and its application to academe is well researched and documented, although as I was discovering, not necessarily acknowledged or understood. It is no secret, as I will detail later in this article, that it is men who accrue advantage and women who accrue disadvantage in the academy.

How can this advantage and disadvantage be so invisible? How can it be so open to scrutiny as to be considered presumptuous in my original question? A naïve question for one steeped in the literature. Advantage becomes invisible to those who have it (Eveline 1994).

I was completely taken aback when my secondary supervisor, a male professor located within the GSM whom I had chosen to assist me in my quantitative methodology, countered an assertion I made about the ‘male dominated university’. We can’t say that yet can we? Always slow with the quick response, I had plenty of time later to consider what I should have said. Yes, we can say that, probably would have sufficed.

The invisible research: gender and the gendered organisation

Much of the organizational literature until recent times ignored gender (Acker & Van Houten 1992; Hearn & Parkin 1983; Mills & Tancred 1992; Martin & Collinson 2002; Wilson 2003). Men were treated as the norm, leaving women, when they were acknowledged, as the ‘other’ (Wilson 2003). Once organizational studies did begin to bring women into the analysis, they often did so by seeing women as the problem that needed to be ‘fixed’ (Kolb & Meyerson 1999).

The development of the field of gendered organization that has occurred over the last twenty years is based on the understanding that gender is not synonymous with the sex category of individuals, but rather is something that is actively constructed. It is seen as a routine accomplishment embedded in everyday interactions and constructed through psychological, cultural and social means (West & Zimmerman 1987). It therefore becomes possible to be ‘doing’ gender, and indeed necessary to keep doing ‘gender’ recurrently.

Doing gender sustains, reproduces and renders legitimate the institutional arrangements that are based on sex category...…..Gender is a powerful ideological device, which produces, reproduces and legitimates the choices and limits that are predicated on sex category (West & Zimmerman 1987:147).

Acker (1990) brought the concepts of ‘doing gender’ and organisations together. She stresses the importance of linking work and gender, both as ways of understanding gender segregation, income and status inequality in the workplace, as well as organisations being a critical place where gender is created and reinforced. Acker conceives of workplaces as being gendered:

To say that an organization is gendered means that advantage and disadvantage, exploitation and control, action and emotion, meaning and identity, are patterned through and in terms of a distinction between male and female, masculine and feminine (Acker 1990:146).

Newman and Williams (1995:120) argue that “to understand the gender dynamics of organizations we have to build theory out of women’s [and here I would add men’s] actual experience of organizational life”. They go on to note that foregrounding diversity is also critical in understanding ambiguities and complexities in roles and identities that intersect with gender, for example that of a black woman or a gay man. As Itzin argues:

‘Gender’ as a category [cannot be] divorced from other lines of experience and identity. . . . Any ‘gender lens’, then, has to be multifaceted, or prismatic, in order to reflect the perceptions and insights of women [and I would argue men] who experience patterns of oppression around age, disability, ‘race’ and sexuality as well as gender (Itzin 1995:274).

The gendered organization finds expression in the cultures, subcultures and even countercultures (Smircich 1983) of the university. “The idea of culture focuses attention on the expressive non-rational qualities of the experience of organization. It legitimates attention to the subjective, interpretive aspects of organizational life” (Smircich 1983:355). Organizational culture becomes a framework for analysing women’s experience.

Adopting a cultural framework provides a lens through which the multifaceted layers of gender relations can be revealed and analysed (Thomas 1996:143)

Looking at gender in this way made complete sense to me – it resonated with my life experience and particularly what I was experiencing as a student. Yet I had never heard reference in the GSM, either in our coursework or in the ongoing seminar series, to gender, the gendered organisation or organisational culture in this way.

I was fascinated and convinced by the literature I was reading. There was a lot of it, and while I could see it wasn’t mainstream, it seemed to have built up a place in academia over time. I was looking at literature from all over the world, both as I explored the concept of the gendered organisation and more particularly as I looked at research about the gendered university. My references came from the US, Canada, UK, Europe, Australia and NZ. Several authors had studied Commonwealth countries, bringing in the developing country perspective. This was no isolated phenomena; it was well documented and investigated. How could it be so invisible?

The invisible research: the gendered university

There is a considerable and growing body of literature exploring the ‘gendered’ university. Recent publications include Gender and the Restructured University (Brooks & Mackinnon 2001), Gendered Universities in Globalized Economies. Power, Careers, and Sacrifices (Currie et al. 2002) and Ivory Basement Leadership (Eveline 2004). In the March 2003 edition of the Gender, Work and Organization journal, devoted to Women in Academe (Finch 2003; Knights & Richards 2003; Krefting 2003; Benschop & Brouns 2003; Falkenberg 2003; Bailyn 2003; Deem 2003), the gendered university was a key focus. This literature provides us with the foundation for understanding how gender is ‘being done’ in academe, in ways which reproduce inequalities between men and women.

It is useful to begin by examining the situation for women (and conversely but implicitly for men) in universities, where strong vertical and horizontal segregation by gender (Finch 2003); the appalling lack of female professors (Hearn 1999; Carrington & Pratt 2003); unequal pay (Probert et al. 1998; Ramsay 2001); under-promotion (Knights & Richards 2003); differences in starting salaries, tenure (Krefting 2003), contracts, allocation of discretionary pay (Knights & Richards 2003), are all well documented. Literature from the UK (Kearney 2000), the US (Bailyn 2003; Goldberg 1999; MIT 1999; Zernike 1999), Australia (Burton 1997; Currie & Thiele 2001; Currie et al. 2002; Castleman et al. 1995; Probert et al. 1998; Ramsay 2001; Ward 2000), and in international comparisons (Kearney 2000) paints a consistent story. As noted by Fogelberg et al:

it is striking how similar, and how persistent, the gendered structures seem to be all over the world (Fogelberg et al. 1999:13).

Despite this dismal picture of systemic discrimination, much of the research on women in universities has shifted attention away from the organisation and its practices, in ways which situate women as the problem. When women are seen as the problem the question becomes ‘why do women not achieve as well as male academics?’ In response to that question many causes have been identified and strategies or remedies suggested and implemented. A familiar litany is repeated in the literature: the glass ceiling; the second shift; missing opportunity structure; non sex-blind performance appraisals; sexual harassment; lack of mentoring and networks (Calas & Smircich 1996); time out; caring responsibilities; part time work; limited mobility (Benschop & Brouns 2003). The results of those studies moved us beyond ‘women as the problem’ to seeing the gendered university as the problem. Yet despite those insights the academy has proved resistant to change. At MIT, where the now well publicised systemic discrimination against senior female scientists was uncovered (MIT 1999), the situation had remained basically unchanged for twenty years.

Clearly, the internationally commonly applied remedy, of anti-discrimination legislation accompanied by changes in institutional policies and practices, has been insufficient. While discrimination is certainly less overt, than twenty years ago, it remains embedded in the organizational culture. Recent research regarding the ‘gendered organization’ has highlighted the importance of digging below the surface, examining

the deeply entrenched assumptions and values that undergird dominant organizational structures and practices, such as hierarchy, competition, and control, and how these reflect and sustain gender inequities in organizations (Meyerson & Kolb 2000).

This ‘gender lens’ approach to analysing and observing organisations, problematises the organizational culture, rather than the women. Rather than asking ‘Why don’t the women succeed?’ the question can then become ‘What is it about this institution that makes it so much easier for men than women to succeed?’ Or perhaps even more succinctly put, ‘How does this institution advantage men and disadvantage women?’

I remember how shocked I was when I joined the staff of the university in 1995. Only a quarter of academics were women. The university was admittedly below the national average at that time, but even now the Australian national average for academic women 6 is 38.5%, for senior academic women 7 it is 20.3%. and 16% 8 for professors. The data for professors internationally, as quoted in a keynote speech by Professor Czarniawska (2005)at the 2005 Gender, Work and Organization Conference varies from a high of 22% in Turkey, and 20% in Finland to a more common clustering around the early teen and single digit percentages, for example France (14%), US (14%), Sweden (13%) Denmark and Ireland (both 7%) with Germany and the Netherlands even lower. Worldwide, women average only 7% of professorial posts (Kearney 2000:13). The rate of change has been slow. It was only in 1995 that I had reflected back to my own university days in the late 70s and realised for the first time how few women there had been; an instance of my own gender blindness.

In my mind these statistics alone, showing both under-representation and compression into junior levels of academia, are enough to make a case for systemic advantage and disadvantage. They are also not isolated to academia. In the press, similar kinds of figures are often reported regarding extremely low percentages of women on boards, women as CEOs of large companies, women earning high salaries, and again these figures are internationally replicated. Shouldn’t this be part of the understanding and business of the GSM?

The invisible research: Making sense of women’s experience

Three areas emerging from the literature that have been critical in understanding the detrimental impact the gendered culture has had on academic women are: the notion of the ‘ideal academic’; the ‘meritocracy’ of academia; and women’s sense of not ‘belonging’ to the academy. These three key areas of interest will become the starting point for exploring potential difference between male and female students’ experiences of the ‘gendered’ university culture.

The ‘ideal academic’

The notion of the ideal academic is built on the concept of the ideal worker as developed by Acker (1990). She contends that much of organizational theory has been based on ‘abstract jobs and hierarchies’ … ‘a disembodied and universal worker’. However “this worker is actually a man; men’s bodies, sexuality and relationships to procreation and paid work are subsumed in the image of the worker” (Acker 1990:139). Bailyn argues that in regards to academe:

The academy is anchored in assumptions about competence and success that have led to practices and norms constructed around the life experiences of men, and around a vision of masculinity as the normal, universal requirement of life (Bailyn 2003:143).

This intertwining of masculinity and academia, the way in which they are ‘locked into one another' has the inevitable consequence of excluding or marginalizing women and femininity (Knights & Richards 2003:229). Women become the ‘other academics’ (Acker 1994).

It should come as no surprise that women have great difficulty fitting the ‘current male model of the ideal academic’ (Bailyn 2003:139). This model academic is someone who gives total priority to work, with no outside interest or responsibilities. Some have expressed this problem as the ‘greedy institution’ (Acker 1994), others have emphasised the public (professional)/private split or conflict (for example Itzin 1995; Martin 1994; Martin 1999; Thomas & Davies 2002; Ward 2000). All contend that any model of the ‘ideal academic’ that ignores people’s domestic and caring responsibilities advantages those without such responsibilities. Forster (2000) explored work/family conflict for partnered women with child/ren in one UK university, noting the difficult decisions women made as a result of the role conflict built into academia. As Bailyn argues:

Equity will not be possible if there exists one group of people (for example, people with care responsibilities) who are systematically unable to meet the requirements of the ideal academic….merely allowing women faculty to meet the criteria for academic success, on terms that have been defined by men and represent their life experiences, does not guarantee equity (Bailyn 2003:139).

Applying the notion of the ideal academic to the gendered experience of doctoral students will allow me to ask questions which include the following: Does the public/private split have an impact on female doctoral students? How does the ‘greedy institution’ (Franzway et al. 2001) have an impact on both men and women with caring responsibilities? How do women’s career patterns, often influenced by child bearing and rearing, have an impact on their candidacy?

Meritocracy and the accrual of merit

Many in universities believe that merit can be judged objectively (Bailyn 2003), despite research which shows bias in awarding grants (Benschop & Brouns 2003), bias in selection processes (Probert 1999), systemic bias in rewarding research excellence (Bailyn 2003; MIT 1999), gender based ascriptions of merit, academic achievement predicting academic outcomes for US men but not women (Krefting 2003) and differences in rank for women not explainable by differences in age, publication, length of service and level of qualifications (Everett 1994).

Examining merit through the ‘gender lens’ suggests that merit is socially constructed and gendered (Bailyn 2003). Viewing organisations as gender-neutral allows this individualistic view of success to go unchallenged (Acker 2000). As Knights and Richards (2003:213), argue, not only is the typical career path structured according to male perceptions of success, merit reinforces this approach. Meritocracy is therefore constructed by men, for a particular group of men, and not surprisingly disadvantages women and some men. This constitutes a process of ‘homosocial reproduction’, with powerful men as gatekeepers, that in the view of Bagilhole (2003) perpetuates mediocrity. Burton (1992; 1997) working in Australia has offered a similar analysis, with difficulties around merit reiterated in recent research (Eveline 2004) and government (Carrington & Pratt 2003) publications. Krefting, in commenting on US academia sees “‘merit’ and gender as intertwined, mutually constituting discourses which produce – and reproduce – a gendered order” (Krefting 2003:262).

As Harding (2002:255) notes women will be continually disadvantaged “as a result of their social production and reproduction roles”. Gendered differences exist in both the construction of what is ‘meritorious’ and in opportunities to accrue merit. Merit is an enduring theme within the gendered analysis of universities, yet one that has not been adequately explored in relation to doctoral students. What will be of interest to explore here are questions of pre-existing differences in ‘merit’, alongside differences in opportunity to accrue academic ‘merit’ during the course of the doctoral candidature. Differences in opportunities and encouragement to attend conferences, to publish, to develop networks, to travel or study overseas, and to teach, will be important patterns to consider here.

Inclusion and exclusion – belonging in the academy

In 1988, Crawford and Tonkinson (1988) found that UWA was decidedly unfriendly to women. From the literature it appears that universities still suffer from cultures in which women do not feel included. Pelled, Ledford and Mohrman (1999:1014) define inclusion as “the degree to which an employee is accepted and treated as an insider by others in a work system”. They found that gender dissimilarity had a negative impact on organizational inclusion.

Inclusion is not something that academic women take for granted. Exclusion and marginalisation are common themes. Martin (1994) names this as the gender asymmetries in social relations at work. Brooks (1997) in her study of UK and NZ academics describes patterns of exclusion, segregation and differentiation in a range of academic processes from appraisal, through to workload and mentoring. Ramsay (2000) and Bagilhole (2003) both explore women’s different access to collegial networks. Women’s lack of seniority, access to mentoring and networks all have an impact on identifying and accessing ‘gateways’ and ‘gatekeepers’. Morley’s work (1994; 1999; Morley et al. 2001) examines the role of networking and mentoring, linking this to the asymmetrical distribution of opportunities and the ‘gendering’ of confidence. Gersick, Bartunek and Dutton (2000) in their study using a narrative approach, explored the importance of relationships to academics’ professional lives. They found that women received significantly less career help than men, and told significantly more stories of harm.

Hall and Sandler (1982; 1984) coined the term ‘chilly climate’ to put a name to women’s experiences of exclusion within the academy. As Bacchi says,

The ‘chilly climate’ is the agglomeration of factors in universities which mark women as ‘ill-fitting’ (Bacchi 1998:85).

Caplan (1994) in her book, aptly titled Lifting a Ton of Feathers. A Woman's Guide to Surviving in the Academic World, gives advice to female academics on ‘overcoming’ this chilly climate. Currie, Thiele & Harris (2002) sum up these practices of exclusion and marginalisation when they say:

The most valued activities in universities are those that reflect male patterns of socialization: individualist rather than collective, competitive rather than co-operative, based on power differences rather than egalitarian, and linked to expert authority rather than collegial support (Currie et al. 2002:1).

Do women doctoral students also experience a lack of belonging, a feeling of being out of place? Answering this question will involve analysing both men and women’s experiences of, for example, mentoring, sponsorship, professional relationships, and inclusion in formal and informal social events.

Clearly the three aspects of the gendered university culture explored here are interconnected. Inclusion will have an impact on opportunities to accrue merit, expectations about fitting the ideal will have an impact on belonging, caring responsibilities will have an impact on accruing merit, and accruing merit will have an impact on sense of belonging and so on. The purpose of my research will be to assess how they have an impact on doctoral students, in ways that ‘do’ gender, and help reproduce a gendered university.

Postgraduates’ experience of the ‘gendered university’

Research regarding the postgraduate experience tells us surprisingly little about the ‘ideal student’, ‘meritocracy’ and ‘belonging’ in the academy. Much of the Australian literature is dated, with the focus on women peaking in the 1980s and 1990s when women’s participation rates were still worryingly low (Moses 1990; Moses 1993). At the same time universities were coming under increasing scrutiny regarding completion rates and time taken to complete. A great deal of the research at that time focussed on enhancing the supervisory relationship, and to a lesser extent departmental practices (for example Cullen et al. 1994; McPhail & Erwee 2000; Parry & Hayden 1994; Willcoxson 1994). When gender is considered, the question tends to be ‘Why don’t women postgraduates succeed?’ rather than ‘How does the culture advantage men postgraduates and disadvantage women postgraduates?’

Recent research pays little attention to gender issues despite a focus on the students’ experience. The latest DEST report The Doctoral Education Experience: Diversity and Complexity (Neumann 2003), a qualitative study of the doctoral education experience, and the Postgraduate Research Experience Questionnaire (PREQ) 9 (Graduate Careers Council of Australia 2000; Graduate Careers Council of Australia 2002) which describes the views of graduates on their experience of postgraduate research, illustrate this. This ‘gender blind’ approach may in part be due to the fact that superficially at least the situation appears to have improved. Enrolments have reached parity (male 51% and female 49% in 2003) 10 and completions (male 56.6% and female 43.4 % in 1999) 11 are steadily increasing. The most noted gender differences are age and discipline differences. Women’s average age is 41.7 in comparison to men’s 34.2 years (Neumann 2003). Women’s participation level across disciplines varies from a low of 20% in the ‘hard applied’ (e.g. engineering) areas to a high of 60% in the ‘soft pure’ areas (e.g. history, education) (Carrington & Pratt 2003; Neumann 2003).

While these are obvious inequalities that need to be understood, there is no accompanying analysis of the gendered organisation. Neither past nor current research appears to have benefited from the ‘gender lens’ analysis developed as part of the growth of the field of gendered organization.

My research will focus on the significant gaps in our understanding regarding doctoral students’ experience of the ‘gendered culture’, both in the broader university and in their discipline. I hypothesise that, as ‘apprentice academics’ the gendered university culture will shape the quality of their learning experience, the research contributions they are able to make, the opportunities and support they receive in order to acquire skills, confidence and the building of both academic identity and ‘merit’. I also hypothesise that their study experience provides crucial information on which doctoral students will choose to build an academic career.

Continuing to live the gendered doctoral experience

At this point I am aware there is something missing, from my own point of view, in my review of the literature and the research I have designed. I have strongly identified with, and already commented on my lack of ‘fit’ with the notion of the ideal academic, and the problems this was causing in my life. Choosing the DBA was in part a response to my lack of merit; I had no honours or research Masters, and therefore no direct access to a PhD programme. My access to opportunities to accrue merit is less problematic, but these opportunities are associated with my work, rather than my doctoral studies. I do have a problem with a lack of belonging. The gender balance of my peers in the programme is fine and the GSM has a relatively respectable gender balance on staff, (in numbers, but not seniority) but my experiences are dominated by men. All the coursework was delivered by male professors and male professors dominate the ‘collegial’ life of the department. This is most evident during seminar presentations (some by students) and the annual traumatic verbal defence process. Male ego’s and personalities loom large, often causing me to reconsider my desire to belong to the GSM and to academia. I have recently, however, met several eminent female Professors, from prominent US and Australian Schools of Management and in hearing their struggles have felt consoled and validated. Our capacity to resonate with each other’s experiences and the inspiration they provide as role models emphasises what is usually missing for me.

So what else is missing? I had come across articles exploring the gendered construction of knowledge, but had not dwelt on them, thinking this was outside the scope of what I could do. While I understood merit as a gendered social construct, I hadn’t considered the relationship between the construction of knowledge and the construction of merit. Reflecting on the micro-process of the modification of my research question, makes this gendered construction visible while also highlighting the importance of the words we use. Lerner (1980)puts this aptly when she says,

While I was to a degree analysing and critiquing the learning environment of the GSM from a gendered perspective, I was still caught off guard when it came to how this would have an impact on me. While I initially found this naivety troubling, I am reassured when I see evidence of others also under-estimating the power of the ‘invisible masculine’. Amanda Sinclair’s aptly titled paper Teaching Managers about Masculinities: Are You Kidding? springs to mind here (Sinclair 2000). It is when we challenge masculine power and privilege, as I did when I framed my research question in terms of male advantage that we actually glimpse how, the normally invisible, male advantage works.

Should I have held my ground? I was advised not to. It is hard to describe what the ‘it’ was that I would be challenging. Mills (1997:331) captures this for me when he talks about a business curriculum that is “profoundly wedded to the status quo”. He uses the term “reproduction rules” developed by Clegg (1981:558) to describe a “system dedicated to the reproduction, maintenance and rationalization of existing ideologies and power structures (Mills 1997:331). Had I held my ground, I would have more stories to tell about gendered power and gendered knowledge in academe.

I, like many feminists before me, have had to struggle against the (masculine) academically instilled notions of rigour in order to include my story here. Despite this, my reflections intertwining the research and my lived experience have served to highlight some gaps and will no doubt enrich the learning and research process. Telling my story may assist those accruing disadvantage (dare I say the majority of whom will be women) to be able to begin to notice and name their own experience. It undoubtedly will not be enough for those accruing advantage (dare I say the majority of whom will be men) to see, understand or be convinced that their advantage accrues from multiple layers of entrenched organisational practices.

But what will I do? I have designed a research methodology using both qualitative and quantitative methods, knowing that ‘hard data’ can be more convincing in the GSM 12. I have compromised my language, but not my intent in my research question, in order for my proposal to be accepted. I will persevere with my doctorate, knowing full well that I am doing it the ‘girl’s way’. I know that for some in the academy my struggle, in terms of juggling skills incorporating demanding job, sole parenting, community and political commitments and doctoral work, is barely visible.

In doing my doctorate I am serving an apprenticeship that grants entry to an organisation that was historically built by men, for men. It accommodates men’s bodies, their life patterns, their ways of knowing, their notions of merit, and encourages their sense of belonging, effortlessly and seemingly invisibly. Am I learning to play the ‘game’? Mills (1997:331)in his writing about teaching gender in business schools refers to this as the “danger of incorporation”. Will it change me, or will my efforts in work and research in some small way change the academy to be more accommodating of women? One thing the research so far shows is that if the academy does not change women will continue to choose other places to be. Will I be able to describe, name, identify, quantify, make visible how and when the gendered university is changing? In short will I be able to answer my original research question? I note that already I am moving beyond that question, by introducing the ‘how’ and ‘when’ questions.

How and when does the gendered culture of the University systematically advantage male and disadvantage female doctoral students?

The research literature, my experience, men’s advantage; all of these are minimised and made invisible by the advantaged. Next time someone says –‘ but we can’t say that can we?’, I will be quicker off the mark with my response.


1. Women’s average age is 41.7 in comparison to men’s 34.2 years. Neumann (2003)

2. For example Education is 62 % women and engineering is 20% Carrington & Pratt (2003)

3. For example Education is 62 % women and engineering is 20% Carrington & Pratt (2003)

4. See Postgraduates’ experience of the ‘gendered university’ section for further details. Also
Probert et al. (1999) in their gender pay equity study of academia found that women were less likely than men to have completed a PhD and that this contributed to their lower pay and status

5. Focussing on women exclusively in research about the gendered university can often teeter precariously close to a ‘blame the woman’ approach. Morley (1994:195) carries an awareness of this difficulty into her interviews, noting that “there is always a danger of reducing major structural inequalities and institutionalized oppression to the level of personalized distress”. Ignoring men and masculinist practices denies their centrality to a gendered organizational analysis Collinson & Hearn (1994).

6. Taken from Advancing the AVCC Action Plan for Women: Cross-Institution comparisons based on 2004 DEST data and supplied by QUT Equity Section, February 2004.

7. Defined as above Senior Lecturer level

8. www.avcc.edu.au/documents/publications/ stats/Uni_Staff_profiles_1996-2004.xls, accessed September 5, 2005

9. The postgraduate equivalent to the Course Experience Questionnaire, for undergraduates upon exit, administered in Australian Universities

10. Carrington & Pratt (2003)

11. Neumann (2003)

12. It was obvious that quantitative approaches were going to be easier to ‘sell’ at the verbal defence of our proposals. We’d all seen what a traumatic experience that could be, through attending the presentations of the year group ahead of us. Feedback such as “Why do grounded theory when you could do a survey and stats instead?” gave us all clues about preferred methodology.


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