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International Women's Day 2021: The Gendered Shadow of COVID in Academia

Meagan Tyler & Lauren Gurrieri

March 8, 2021

Meagan Tyler RMIT University, CPOW

Lauren Gurrieri – RMIT University, CPOW


Various outlets have reported the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 disruption has had on women in academia and on women’s research outputs, in particular. The effect on research has been noted as especially acute for many heterosexual women with caregiving responsibilities, such as mothers with school-aged children, juggling the gendered division of labour at home and the gendered inequalities of paid work. You can read more about research in this area over at The Conversation, the National Bureau of Economic Research and Harvard Business School.

The New York Times went so far as to state that these effects of the pandemic have pushed “female faculty to the brink” and emphasised the negative impacts on career advancement.

Such problems are not entirely new, of course, as Brooke Peterson Gabster, Kim van Daalen, Roopa Dhatt and Michele Barry point out in The Lancet: “Challenges women in academia face are well documented in non-pandemic times. These challenges include male dominated institutional cultures, lack of female mentors, competing family responsibilities due to gendered domestic labour, and implicit and subconscious biases in recruitment, research allocation, outcome of peer review, and number of citations.”

As Fiona Godlee – the Editor in Chief of the BMJ – explains, it is more that the impacts of COVID-19 exacerbate these issues in many ways and show: “the fragility of any advances to sex equality in academia and the importance of structures that support and incentivise progress.” 

Which further underlines that how institutions respond to these challenges, matters. 

The need for organisational-level solutions was picked up by a group of female academics across a range of fields in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USAHere, they highlight the crisis conditions of the pandemic creating a degree of backsliding towards biased decision-making without appropriate regard for key equality and diversity concerns. They argue that the first step in addressing this is to “start an honest conversation within academia” about gender inequality and how it operates in pandemic conditions, in our own workplaces. 

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