When gender neutrality becomes gender disparity, reevaluate


Mistaking equality for equity fails in practice to level the playing field for female professors.

It may seem like a one-letter difference, but policies aiming for equality won’t work unless they take into account the already uneven playing field that exists between men and women in academia.

Many universities in the United States have opted towards a gender-neutral policy that adds an extra year to a professor’s tenure track to allow time to have a child without incurring a disadvantage. Three economists found however that these family-friendly policies are actually disadvantaging women as men were able to take advantage of the additional time to publish work.

According to an article about the study in The New York Times, such policies have led to a 19 per cent increase in male economists’ probability to receive tenure, with a 22 per cent decrease for women.  

The failure of these policies to achieve an equitable result reflects the universities’ tendency to construct the appearance of gender-neutral practices, without considering that men’s and women’s experiences aren’t neutral at all.

Female professors already face an institutionalized disparity, they’re paid less than their male peers and promoted less often.

Policies enacted with gender neutrality in mind fail to realize that a man and a woman aren’t on equal footing to begin with when it comes to career opportunities, nor in terms of the physical and mental strain of having a child. Having the same policy apply to both unequal genders in the pursuit of equality doesn’t solve this imbalance.

If men continue to benefit further from what should be a time to have a child, policies like this may involuntarily discourage more and more young women who want to pursue careers in academia.

If their choice to have children could potentially work against their careers, it may only further the belief that women can’t have everything and that they have to choose — career or family. 

— Journal Editorial Board

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