Since many countries are now emerging from self-imposed lockdowns, the question arises how academic institutions deal with the unequal workload during the lockdowns. Female academics have faced a multitude of challenges in the past months: a sudden increase in housework or care (including in a single parent or both-parent family), a higher workload due to the move to online teaching and a rising demand on pastoral care, a burden which tends to fall on women academics, given that students are more likely to go to women with their pastoral issues. It may thus be unsurprising that research outputs by women clearly slowed down in contrast to men, who have been able to advance with their research, with paper submissions even increasing up to 50%. Whilst women have had less time to work, paid work opportunities are also diminishing, reflected in a significant decrease in contingent contracts often taken up by women in the faculty. At the same time, women’s visibility in COVID-19 related discussions in the media have been marginal compared to their male peers. This is particularly worrying for areas such as economics, which are crucial in designing policies to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.
However, this is not a new phenomenon but a reflection of the persistent sexism that permeates academic work and higher education. Not only are women generally underrepresented in leading positions in academia, but they also disproportionately face the double burden of paid and unpaid work. Women still conduct the majority of caring dutieswithout a sufficient support system in place which in turn translates into less research output in comparison to their male colleagues. Another factor relates to the invisibility of women. Women are quoted less in comparison to their male peers, and just one third of all academic research in the UK lists women as authors. Barriers in academia are even further intensified when being a woman of colour, who are more scrutinised, progress less, have higher workloads and lack institutional support. These adversarial impacts on women’s performances measured by the current research evaluation system exacerbate gender inequality in promotion rounds.
Ignoring the impact of the pandemic and its concomitant lockdowns on women means that gender inequality will continue to rise in a post-COVID-19 world, with men being promoted faster and women taking longer than during usual times. We support a collective approach to this issue, rather than shifting the burden to individual academics to find the solution. Higher education institutions, research associations, journal editorial boards and funding bodies have a responsibility to tackle gender inequality in academia on a continuous basis. We therefore suggest the following non-exhaustive action points: Continue reading