Who works harder?

Dr Angela Dobele is a creative, results-oriented academic with progressive career accomplishments in research, teaching and community engagement. Her research focuses on three main areas: word-of-mouth referrals (including technological communications), gender diversity, and teaching and learning. Angela’s teaching disciplines include electronic marketing, services marketing, new product development, marketing management and integrated marketing communications. 

As well as immersing herself in research and teaching, Angela is a Foster Dog Carer, enjoys Science Fiction and plans on taking music lessons (any day now…).


Fight-Talk (Photo courtesy of FooDavid)

If you’re a female academic who thinks you’re working harder than your male colleagues, you may well be right!

Not only that, you might be working harder, but you’re less likely to be in the professorial ranks.

I was part of a team of researchers (from RMIT and Griffith universities) who found that, while women are shouldering the majority of the workload at each academic rank, they are under-represented further up the pecking order.

Our results show gender equity in terms of workload on five key workload measures, but there was inequality in terms of pay and status. It confirms what many already presume: it is still the case that fewer women are employed in senior ranks. These results suggest, despite policy reforms, inequity continues to be a problem in the Australian higher education sector.

Our study focused on business faculty employees, and showed that female senior lecturers – the ‘middle’ tier – are teaching an average 848 students compared with their male counterparts’ 229. The number of courses co-ordinated by senior lecturers was an average of 4 for women and 3.2 for men.

Despite shouldering much of the work, women are underrepresented in the higher ranks: senior lecturers, associate professors and professors. For example, in one of the universities studied, one fifth of the male staff were professors, compared with no women.

Our research is unique in this field because we relied on observable workload data from a variety of sources, which is distinct from other studies that rely on employees’ self reports.

What we have found is that, despite policy reforms, inequity continues to be a problem in the Australian higher education sector. If higher education institutions are serious about increasing the proportion of women in senior academic ranks, then more proactive policies and programs are needed.

In today’s marketplace, universities face three competitive challenges:

  1. they must compete to capture both international students and researchers;
  2. they must survive against private, fully commercialised education providers that are, perhaps, more attuned to the needs of stakeholders (such as the skill requirements of business sectors); and finally,
  3. universities need to plan and strategise their provision of online education services in an extremely fast-moving environment.

To stand out in such a competitive market, a university must be able to distinguish itself. Quality teaching and research has become the base by which both institutional brand and reputation are established, to influence the attraction and retention of students and researchers, and capture the attention of employers seeking graduates.

With the increasing emphasis on quality, particularly in research, increasing attention is directed at the workloads and outputs of academic staff.

The traditional three domains of academic staff workloads – teaching, research, and service – still roll out with a secondary emphasis upon service (including administration, industry and community engagement), and greater importance placed on teaching and research. These twin goals can be either synergistic and complementary or antagonistic and competing

Our study has significance for both workload practice and policy. With regard to workload practice, our findings can provide insight for academics seeking to benchmark their performance and better understand the level of work required for promotion. According to our results, the higher the academic rank, the higher the required research outputs and lower the teaching demands (both in terms of the number of courses coordinated and students taught). If junior staff are teaching greater numbers of courses and have more students, this obviously leaves them less time to develop their research capabilities.

Such a finding is important as promotional panels are known to undervalue teaching compared with research, and it is well-documented that women are not promoted as readily or rapidly as men.

Despite the development of policies to promote gender equity in Australian universities, efforts have not yet achieved gender equity for academics to the extent or at the rate expected. An analysis of individual workload patterns can assist in informing further policy development. For both of the universities in our study, women had higher observed research grant income while handling equal, or higher, teaching loads (in terms of course numbers).

Overall, our study suggests an imbalance remains between genders, with female academics not getting promoted on the basis of workload performance. If Universities Australia is determined to attain gender equity for academics, then policy changes may be required to redress the remaining imbalances.

This research will be published in the journal of Higher Education Research and Development.

Our team, Associate Professor Sharyn Rundle-Thiele (Griffith), Dr Foula Kopanidis (RMIT) and myself, is now working on unpacking what might be holding women back, and giving a clearer, longer-term picture of academic workloads using over five years’ worth of data.

Previous research has suggested that the difference in promotion rates is due to female employees taking time out for maternity leave and parenting responsibilities but, while women might not continue administrative or teaching roles during maternity leave, we know anecdotally that they continue to research. So, these assumptions need much more attention .

If readers are interested, this study is a follow-up to a previous study that considered the academic workloads of men and women at two regional universities: “All Things Being Equal: Observing Australian Individual Academic Workloads”, Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management. Our data provides an average that academics can use to benchmark their own performance. By benchmarking your performance, you can directly show managers making promotion decisions and performance assessments how your performance exceeds averages at equivalent universities.

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One Response to Who works harder?

  1. wow, after all these years of intellectual evolution, i never thought that my species would still be susceptible to the tendency of discriminating others based on gender. this sucks. big time.

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