News

Tracking the Gender Gap in Assigned Readings News
You'll notice that lots of the readings are by me!

Tracking the Gender Gap in Assigned Readings

October 14, 2015 1086

You'll notice that lots of the readings are by me!

You’ll notice that lots of the readings are by me!

Do male and female instructors differ in the way they teach international relations (IR)? New evidence suggests that they do.

The value of gender diversity has been emphasized over and over again. Even so, much work remains to be done. For example, only 24 percent of full-time political science professors in the U.S. are women.

These days 42 percent of the graduate students in political science in the U.S. are women, which could be a pipeline of more female professors in the future – if they stay in academia. One way to encourage women is to expose students to examples of great research by female scholars. This means paying more attention to syllabi.

Recently, I conducted a study that investigated the international relations syllabi for PhD students, building on a bigger study that will soon be published at International Studies Quarterly. The differences that I found could have important implications for recruiting and retaining female scholars in political science.

The Conversation logo

This article by Chris Edwards originally appeared at The Conversation, a Social Science Space partner site, under the title “Are assigned readings from women professors different?”

Gender diversity of syllabi

A fantastic research assistant, Miriam Hinthorn, gathered data from 73 syllabi. The syllabi came from 42 U.S. universities. Female instructors taught 35 of them, and male instructors taught the others. The syllabi contained 4,148 required readings (each reading could be an article, a book, or a book segment). (Our data do not speak to diversity issues besides gender, like race or ethnicity.)

Here is what we found:

Male authors, either individually or in teams, wrote 76 percent of the assigned readings (women or coed teams account for the remaining 24 percent).

This percentage is high, but not when considered alongside the publication patterns of top rated IR journals: overall 81 percent papers were authored by men in top-rated IR journals between 1980-2006.

The fact is male authors have dominated the IR journals because most IR professors are men, though that number is declining over time. It is not surprising, then, that syllabi are also dominated by male authors.

Women instructors assign different research

However, we found that female instructors design courses differently than male instructors. This happened in two ways.

First, we found that female scholars tend to assign more readings by female authors than male instructors. In our sample, men were authors of “only” 71.5 percent of readings in courses taught by female instructors.

Male instructors, on the other hand, assigned readings that were 79.1 percent by male authors. Statistically, that difference is very unlikely to happen by random chance.

Put differently, female instructors assign 36 percent more readings by women (including coed teams) than male instructors do, or about five readings per course.

Of course, other factors could be playing a role as well, such as course composition, rather than bias per se. Regardless, the findings are hard to ignore.

Our second major finding was that female instructors are considerably more averse to assigning their own research as required readings. They assigned an average of 1.68 readings that they themselves had written (as solo or coauthor).

By contrast, male instructors assigned about twice as much of their own work: an average of 3.18 readings. Again, the difference is very unlikely to be random.

What if female instructors assigned their own work at the same rate as men?

Our estimates show the gender gap between male- and female-taught courses would grow even larger. If female instructors added as much of their own work as male instructors do (without subtracting anything else), research by male authors would then account for only 69.3 percent of their readings.

That is, female instructors would be teaching 47 percent more readings by women than male instructors.

How should we design syllabi?

Shouldn’t instructors just try to assign the best readings?

Absolutely. But “best” is partly subjective, and gender affects such judgments. Some scholars, including me, have found that revising their syllabus with gender in mind is not only feasible, it improves the course.

Women are often advised to emulate men in the workplace (e.g., Lean In). In this case, however, I believe, it might be better if men emulated the women.

That would increase the amount of female-authored research being taught. It would also mean that at least some male instructors would need to reduce the amount of their own research that they assign in classes.

One or two readings written by the instructor is fine, and perhaps more if the instructor is especially senior and prominent. But too much could crowd out other valuable research – a disservice to the students.

The differences in the way IR is taught to graduate students also could have important downstream effects. Scholars have recently demonstrated a citation gender gap: female-authored research in IR is less likely to be cited than male-authored work, even when many relevant factors like the author’s professional rank and institution are the same. Some scholars have suggested that this gap arises, in part, because of what is assigned on graduate syllabi.

Ultimately, our objective should be to generate a syllabus that best serves our students’ needs: intellectual, professional and otherwise. Thinking about gender balance is one important way that we can do that.The Conversation


Jeff D. Colgan is the Richard Holbrooke Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University. His research focuses on two main areas: the causes of war and global energy politics. His book, Petro-Aggression: When Oil Causes War, was published in 2013 by Cambridge University Press. An article that previews the book's argument won the Robert O. Keohane award for the best article published in International Organization by an untenured scholar.

View all posts by Jeff Colgan

Related Articles

Contemporary Politics Focus of March Webinar Series
News
February 21, 2024

Contemporary Politics Focus of March Webinar Series

Read Now
There’s Something In the Air…But Is It a Virus? Part 1
Public Policy
January 18, 2024

There’s Something In the Air…But Is It a Virus? Part 1

Read Now
The Social Sciences Are Under Attack in Higher Education
News
January 2, 2024

The Social Sciences Are Under Attack in Higher Education

Read Now
Jonathan Breckon On Knowledge Brokerage and Influencing Policy
Interview
December 6, 2023

Jonathan Breckon On Knowledge Brokerage and Influencing Policy

Read Now
New Thought Leadership Webinar Series Opens with Regional Looks at Research Impact

New Thought Leadership Webinar Series Opens with Regional Looks at Research Impact

Research impact will be the focus of a new webinar series from Epigeum, which provides online courses for universities and colleges. The […]

Read Now
Shared Leadership: What Do Employees Think About It?

Shared Leadership: What Do Employees Think About It?

Traditional approaches to sharing leadership focus on the attitude of the manager. But what about the attitudes of the underlings asked to step up?

Read Now
Watch The Lecture: The ‘E’ In Science Stands For Equity

Watch The Lecture: The ‘E’ In Science Stands For Equity

According to the National Science Foundation, the percentage of American adults with a great deal of trust in the scientific community dropped […]

Read Now
0 0 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments