(In)equality between women and men at university has many faces. For example, why is it that the proportion of women decreases steadily, particularly after the post-doctoral stage? And why are men more closely associated with the exact and natural sciences than women? Vertical and horizontal segregation within universities is the result of various mechanisms, which tend to have cumulative effects.

Individual level

At the individual level, female researchers may have the sense that they do not belong in certain disciplines or at higher levels, where they are in a minority, and therefore opt to leave the academic world altogether. People’s individual attitudes are driven by differences in how they are socialized, which implies that certain skills are associated with girls and women (for example, empathy, altruism and kindness) and others with boys and men (such as competitiveness, rationality and leadership) and internalized accordingly from childhood onwards.

Structural and normative factors

Structural and normative factors also play a part. For example, because of the lack of child-care facilities in Switzerland and the fact that family responsibilities still fall largely to women, female researchers often have to assume (or are believed to have to assume) a double workload if they want to pursue an academic career and start a family and/or if they have family members who need care. Very often, there is a clash between family and professional commitments, creating a significant source of tension.

Institutional elements

The university itself may discourage applications from women, by adopting a typically masculine view of scientific careers. For example, if excellence is defined as an intensive, linear and uninterrupted investment, women’s CVs run the risk of being viewed as less competitive than men’s.

Bias and gender stereotypes

Finally, given that everyone has their own unconscious bias and stereotypes in relation to gender, applications from women can be unjustly dismissed during selection and appointment procedures. It is therefore essential to be aware of the cognitive mechanisms that can produce biased judgments, in order to guarantee fair and equitable procedures.

Find out more about gender bias.


More information

Scientific references
Gender bias in the academic world
Best practices and tools
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