Education Health

Women in Academia Struggle in the Wake of COVID-19

Women seem to be submitting comparatively fewer papers for review to academic journals as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Elizabeth Hannon, deputy editor of the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, noted a “negligible number of submissions to the journal from women in the last month.” Anna Watts remarked upon the makeup of papers posted to a preprint science archive: “Feeling like the arXiv has skewed heavily male the last few weeks.” David Samuels, co-editor of Comparative Political Studies, said that while women’s submissions are the same in April 2020 as April 2019, men’s submissions went up 50% from year to year.

Einat Lev, an associate research professor of seismology at Columbia University, recalled hearing from a male colleague who said that the current pandemic, with resulting stay-at-home orders, “gives me time to concentrate on writing.” She said her experience couldn’t be different: she can only work 4 hours a day instead of her usual 10 with her 7-year-old daughter at home.

These anecdotes provide a look into how the novel coronavirus and existing issues with unpaid labor collide to further gender inequality. An Oxfam study released earlier this year stated that if women were paid the minimum wage for unpaid labor, such as care of family members and routine housework, the sum would total $10.9 trillion. Now, women are facing unprecedented amounts of unpaid labor due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is cutting into their professional opportunities, draining their mental health and more.

For women in academia, these effects might be proving more severe, given goals around tenure. University of California assistant professor Whitney Pirtle took a one-year extension on her tenure track clock, offered by her university, but even that comes rife with professional uncertainties. Tenure evaluators might count taking an extension as having more time at home to be productive. If there’s a recession in a year, her department might cut its budget and other universities might not be hiring. Men already benefit from such “stop the clock” policies in the case of having a baby, with studies showing that they accomplish more with a year off than women do.

A possible solution? Recognition of the difficulties that coronavirus presented academics, attached to tenure applications. Leslie Gonzales, professor of education administration at Michigan State University, said of that goal: ““We essentially want to say, ‘Hey, this was a big deal for a lot of people.’”

Sources: Elizabeth Hannon 04/18/20; Anna Watts 04/21/20; David Samuels 04/18/20; The Lily 04/24/20; Oxfam 01/19/20.