These talks are “an important career-building activity,” according to one study co-author
University talks aren’t making the grade.
Male professors at prestigious American institutions delivered more than twice as many academic talks — framed by the researchers as “an important career-building activity” — as their female counterparts during the 2013 to 2014 school year, according to a new Rice University study. The authors further found that women didn’t refuse invitations or doubt the talks’ importance more than men did.
These presentations of work — aka colloquia — “can have a significant impact on researchers who are selected to give them,” study co-author Michelle Hebl explained in a statement. “Talks can validate one’s standing as a respected researcher, draw attention to one’s programmatic research and latest findings, increase chances of research collaborations and/or promotions and open doors to new and better career opportunities.”
The researchers analyzed 3,652 talks across six disciplines bearing greater representation of women — psychology, sociology, history, political science, biology and bioengineering — given at U.S. News and World Report’s top 50 public and private universities. Women gave just 31% of the talks, they found, compared to men’s 69% — with the disparity holding steady regardless of professorial rank.
The authors also used a survey to knock out the potential explanation of men and women simply having different preferences, finding both were just as likely to accept talk invitations and think these seminars were important.
Gatekeepers, it turned out, held the power to flip the script. Women gave 49% of talks sponsored by women colloquium chairs, but only 30% of talks sponsored by male chairs. Colloquium committees with greater female presence were also more inclined to invite female professors.
“The implications extend beyond academia. For example, when organizations choose someone to lead a coveted work project, to participate in a valuable developmental experience or engage in some other limited workplace opportunity, they may similarly inadvertently tilt the balance in favor of men,” Hebl said. “If we want to be egalitarian, including female representation on the committee can help.”
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