Challenging Androcentrism in the Academy: 7 Strategies for Leaders of Academic Institutions

Gender Bias in the Academy - Image of an Academic Library

Confronting gender bias in the academy and seeking gender equity and gender balance requires concerted efforts by senior leadership. Here are seven ways to make a difference.

by Rosalind Spigel, Organizational Development Consultant and Leadership Coach, Spigel Consulting

In this series of seven articles, we have considered leadership qualities and how they are practiced, deployed, and interpreted differently for women and men. Those qualities are:

To support gender balance, we have provided suggestions for individuals, teams, and organizations.

(Note: For the purposes of this series, the perspective is cisgendered, able bodied and living in the US.  I have not addressed multiple genders, gender fluid individuals, race or other intersections of marginalization. Representation within gender is an important conversation. Although this series does not address this conversation directly, it is important to note that bringing only white women into leadership is nether gender equity nor gender balance.)

Summary: Where Androcentrism Holds Us Back from Truly Supporting Women's Leadership in the Academy

What we have seen over the course of this series is that in terms of leadership distinctions, women are perceived to be stronger in some (empathy, collaboration) and men stronger in others (confidence, assertiveness).  In our androcentric world, and the academy is no exception, men’s leadership strengths are overvalued and women’s leadership strengths are undervalued.

In addition, gender bias, which is tilted against women and favors white masculine men, is held by both men and women. In her article, "Picture a Leader. Is She a Woman?" Heather Murphy (2018) reports that when men and women are asked to draw leaders, they almost always draw men. This exercise literally illustrates how deeply embedded unconscious assumptions are when it comes to recognizing women’s abilities and leadership. And, while women experience the difficulties and barriers of getting into leadership positions, men do not know and are not always aware that these barriers exist. Citing a Catalyst study, Joanne Lipman (2018) writes “The majority of men ... report that as far as they are concerned, discrimination doesn’t exist. Sexism has already been solved.”

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