Why is that academics has such biases?

Gender Gap,Political Science

Gender balance and gender distribution in international relations and security are not new themes. A decade ago, Daniel Maliniak, Amy Oakes, Susan Peterson, and Michael J. Tierney brought out some stark numbers to reflect the ground reality in the field. In their essay, “Women in International Relations,” the authors noted that despite higher number of women receiving degrees in political science, their representation in faculty position is way below in comparison to other disciplines. The authors noted that “[O]nly 26% of the 13,000 political science professors in the United States today are women.” A 2006 Teaching, Research, and International Politics (TRIP) Survey found that women have “an even smaller proportion of IR (International Relations) scholars.” On top of it, the women in IR usually belong to the junior stream and most did not have tenure track positions.

Maliniak et al. notes: “Only 17% of political science professors and 14% of professors are women.” These numbers had gone up marginally by 2010: 40% assistant professors, 30% associate professors and only 19% full professors in political science. This data, of course, pertains to the US: the situation is probably far worse in the developing world. On the other hand, the academia is a global community, and these issues affect women in the IR and security studies irrespective of where they are based.

What is the story behind these numbers? While there are a number of factors that go to determine why women are under-represented in faculty positions, one of the parameters is citation — how often your work has been cited by others. The citation bias has a long history, starting from the time women enter universities. The syllabi set by professors are possibly the first instance where these biases are developed. If you were in the universities even in the 1990s and 2000s, the readings in the syllabi most likely were typically men. How often do professors recommend a woman scholar’s work unless it was something specifically on feminism? This bias is further carried forward in PhD programmes, and publications in peer-reviewed journals. Men are again seen referring to and citing other men than women in their works. Is it because there are lesser number of essays authored by women? No. Daniel Maliniak, Ryan M. Powers and Barbara F. Walter in a paper on gender gap in citations noted that “A research article written by a woman and published in any of the top journals will still receive significantly fewer citations than if that same article had been written by a man.”


If you were in the universities even in the 1990s and 2000s, the readings in the syllabi most likely were typically men. How often do professors recommend a woman scholar’s work unless it was something specifically on feminism?


And this has a big impact. Citations have become important tools in undertaking professional evaluation. Fewer citations have come to mean “less good candidates to be hired, promoted, and supported.” There have been studies done to understand this phenomenon. According to one study, “the average number of citations of articles authored by men alone was about 25 while it was about 20 for articles authored by women alone. This may seem like a small difference, but the average article in the humanities and social sciences hardly gets cited at all — on average, less than once a year — so even these small numbers strongly impact the perceived quality of the work.” According to the study, this is the case “even after controlling for the age of publication, whether the author came from a (top research) school, the topic under study, the quality of the publishing venue, the methodological and theoretical approach, and the author’s tenure status.”

At the 2013 Monkey Cage gender gap symposium, Prof. David Lake, a well-known scholar, co-editor of the journal International Organization, the president of the International Studies Association, was asked to speak on the subject of the symposium. He started by narrating his own experience where he was asked to correct his citations to rectify the yawning gender gap in his references. Having rectified it to an extent by broadening the literature that he consulted, he said, “Expanding the range of citations made the paper significantly better, engaged more communities, and strengthened the argument.”

Why is that academics has such biases? As Prof. Lake says, it is next to impossible to read every single article or book that comes out, even if they are related to one’s own specific research subject. He says that at least in his case, he is somewhat more inclined to read articles/ books of people he knows or at least he is personally acquainted with: “For a book or article to get onto one of my reference lists, I’ve usually had to absorb the work in some deep way — and this takes time. Personal connections lead to deeper readings, which lead to more citations and, likely, more personal connections.” Prof. Lake now acknowledges he was “guilty of citation bias for many years in many publications.” Citations on its own don’t matter as much as who and where it has been cited, leading to further popularisation of the work.

This possibly leads to what Prof. Lake referred to as gendered personal networks. He said that the citation bias that exists today is possibly due to gendered personal networks in fields such as political science. The gendered personal network factor may be an even larger issue in sub-fields such as international relations or security studies, which are mostly dominated by men. And it is even more pronounced in non-western societies. It is a particularly steep climb for women from developing countries in Asia. Among the women in Asia (and India), most are asked to focus on so-called softer aspects of security like health, trade and economy or at worst, human security than hard core international security issues such as military, space or nuclear security issues (which is true in the US as well).

In India, the number of women in international politics and security studies is still a small number. Within academia or think tank spaces, this is most conspicuous in the all-male panels or ‘manels’ at seminars and discussions on IR and security debates. Though this does seem to be changing with younger women entering the field however this appears to be largely limited to Delhi. As the density of women in international security increases (marginal as of now), one can only hope that some of these may change.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s).

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