Academic Conferences and Sexism

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Academics will routinely attend conferences throughout the year, and the events serve several purposes. First, they allow professors to share their new research with others. They frequently use the feedback to further improve their work, increasing the chances for publication. In addition, conferences allow faculty members from around the world to meet one another. Thus, social networks are increased, as are potential research collaborators.

Recently, Jacklyn Biggs, from the University of Kansas, and her colleagues examined the degree to which academic conferences had sexist climates. They also considered the impact of the climate on the conference attendees.

The found that women were more likely than men to consider the conference climate to be a sexist one. However, as the proportion of women-to-men increased, perceptions of sexism decreased.

The conference attendees engaged in a number of coping strategies to combat the sexism. In some cases, they tried to behave in ways that were more stereotypically masculine. In other cases, they would refrain from speaking up. A final coping strategy was to confront the sexist comments or behaviors.

Finally, the sexist climate negatively impacted all involved. For women, when they experienced sexism and were silenced at the conference, they considered leaving academia all together. For men, experiences with sexism prompted them to consider exiting the conference.

In commenting on the findings, the authors noted: “Because conferences signal the norms of a discipline, it is important to explore their climates as they relate to gender. Perhaps especially for new and aspiring female academics, they may signal devalued status and lack of fit and as such play an inadvertent role in the “leaky pipeline.””