The gender gap in the academic world is a phenomenon that was already taking place before the COVID-19 pandemic. The figures presented at the Spanish level show a panorama in which the so-called "glass ceiling" also affects the scientific and research field, where, for example, only 22% of university professorships in 2018 were occupied by women, despite the fact that the percentage of women over the teaching and research staff amounted to 45% (Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities, 2019). We observe the same phenomenon in the composition of evaluation commissions of research projects, where despite the equal presence of women in vocal positions, chairs positions are mostly held by men. The same could be said about the percentage of authorship in indexed articles SCOPUS, which also shows a gender gap (Ministry of Science and Innovation, 2020). In the same way, as Criado-Pérez (2019) points out, not only women are less representative in papers authorship, but also men tend not to cite female articles. This extends the publication gap towards a citation gap and thus it originates a vicious circle that hampers the professional development of academics, since the research system is based on a “false meritocracy” that rewards criteria and qualities with a greater masculine component. Even Criado-Perez (2019) highlights some practices that undervalue the work of academic women, such as assuming men perform the leadership role of a publication co-authored or giving less credit to the role of women in these publications, something that it occurs more often in the discipline of economics.
These figures and numbers reflect the experiences that, like all women in the academia, we also have experienced at some point in our careers. Thus, we have perceived at some point the feeling of being in men’s shadow or of being there "thanks" to the fact that it is politically correct. For example, how many of the women conference keynote speakers are invited as a first choice by the organizers because of their work and not in order to fulfil a requirement of having a gender-balanced panel?
One of the consequences that has been observed during the pandemic is that this gap has increased with the crisis. During 2020, various publications echoed that the number of manuscripts submitted with female authorship had not only decreased during lockdown, but also that male authorship had increased as compared to the previous year. This could be a consequence of the greater weight that women perform at home and in caring for dependent people. Therefore, we could say that this impact has not only occurred in the academic world, but in all sectors of activity. However, the long-term impact of the gap in publications may have a greater effect on the professional development of female academics, since the meritocracy system of universities is based on results of academic production such as papers, and not on recognising other relevant activities. In addition, the feeling of not “producing” in the established system generates in women a fear of seeming that we have not done anything during the first or subsequent lockdowns and contributes to feeding this vicious circle and increasing the gender gap.
It is worth highlighting the invisibility of the tasks and practices carried out by women in the framework of the university and academic community. It is the university ‘domestic work’: from emotional support to students to proactivity for promoting the development of the university community. A dedication that has been increased in times of coronavirus and that, added to the greater dedication to family and home caring, takes time for academic publications.
And it is that while the accreditation and professional development processes within the university community mainly prioritize academic production and the number of teaching hours, the tasks most linked to relational practice are destined to be invisible (Fletcher, 1990). We are talking about taking responsibility for the community or for the entire group of agents involved in a project in order to preserve their development, to solve conflicts or anticipate them or to prioritize the needs of projects or promote mutual empowerment instead of the individual career of the researcher. Our colleague and Senior Researcher Miren Larrea develops this idea based on her own research career.
Gender balance in times of coronavirus and in the academic community requires institutional support that goes beyond what is politically correct. We are talking about incorporating the female approach in a structural way in the scientific community. On the one hand, as Acosta (2017) points out, from the side of gender-balanced policies in order that gender-balanced plans are not again a 'women's' issue. This requires more involvement of the entire community, a lot of transparency (for example in the barriers to advance in the professional career) or taking into account that women will only be able to transform knowledge if they are well positioned in the places where which defines the value of knowledge (Acosta, 2017: 179). On the other hand, it is important to stop making invisible the relational practices that allow such scientific activity to be carried out. Without generating community, shared vision, conflict resolution, or mutual care, etc., we will hardly be able to transform reality and show the value of the academy when it comes to solving the great challenges that our society faces. Finally, an aspect that is more familiar to us: integrating the gender vision in our research, from the very beginning of the research in an egalitarian and participatory way. It is true that steps are being taken, but we can still do much more. From us and between all (women and men).
Miren Estensoro is a Researcher at Orkestra-Basque Institute of Competitiveness and a lecturer at Deusto Business School. She holds a PhD in Economics from the University of the Basque Country. Her research area is mainly local economic development, territorial governance and multi-level coordination of competitiveness policies.
Dr. Susana Franco is a Senior Researcher at Orkestra and holds a PhD in Economics from the University of Nottingham and is working in Orkestra-Basque Institute of Competitiveness as a researcher since 2010. Her main activities and responsibilities include conducting quantitative and qualitative research and coordinating, developing and managing projects within the areas of clusters, competitiveness, regional development, employment and wellbeing; publishing research output in international academic journals, books and reports; interacting with different regional and international agents; contributing to training in the field of competitiveness; and supervising doctoral students.