Towards a Theoretical Model for the Reproduction of and Change in Gender Inequality in Higher Educational Institutions

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 10:40 AM
Room: F201
Oral Presentation
Pat O'CONNOR , Sociology, University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland
This paper identifies key elements facilitating/ inhibiting the reproduction of gendered inequality in the professoriate and senior management in higher education. Gender is seen as a social institution (Yancey Martin, 2004) and a multilevel phenomenon (Wharton, 2012; Risman, 2004). It is reflected in the societal allocation of power and resources; in state policies; in gendered organisational cultures, narratives and structures; in interactional stereotypes and perceptions and in gendered selves.  Its multi-layered character can potentially exacerbate the difficulty of initiating change. However, in specific contexts, change at any of these levels may consciously or inadvertently affect change at other levels (Walby, 1990).

Cross national structures are a particularly important potential source of change since gender inequality inhibits economic growth (OECD, 2012; EU, 2012).  At national level, the salience of gender issues varies. There is an underlying tension in the fact that women are disproportionately represented among  knowledge workers, but are under-represented in those disciplines that are seen as most economically important (EU, 2012).  Gender inequality is affected by the strengthening/weakening of other structures and the promotion of other societal or organisational priorities (including neo-liberalism; managerialism; definitions of excellence). At an organisational, interactional and individual level, agents of change include men and women who embody resistance as ‘tempered radicals’ (Meyerson and Scully, 2011) on any basis (gender inequality; care; other occupational experiences; collegiality etc). Finally,  experiences in particular contexts  may not be gendered (Ridgeway and Correll 2004), thus increasing the possibility of the emergence of coalitions.

This framework will be located in a cross national study of senior management, focusing particularly on Irish universities, and including a case study of one university where the proportion of women at professorial level increased from zero to 34 per cent over a 15 year period (O’Connor, 2014a &b)