Fostering gender equality in higher education and research: new forms of inclusion or new patterns of privilege?


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The special issue aims to fuel the debate on the effectiveness of gender equality initiatives in higher education and research (i.e. academic and research institutions) from a critical perspective. Higher education and research institutions represent an interesting field since after more than 20 years of targeted initiatives, problems are still there. Some of the potential limits of gender equality initiatives have been stressed by the literature; however, their longer-term implications in terms of how careers are shaped, and how these initiatives influence the theorization and practice of gender equality in organizations, are less explored (Stierncreutz & Tienari, 2023). Moreover, it is known that the current neoliberal context shapes access to professions (and career progression) in a way which often hinders minorities; additionally, neoliberalism often tends to co-opt the concept of gender equality, hindering women’s empowerment. 
Literature shows some of the potential reasons for the difficulty in tackling gender unbalance in higher education and research: gender equality initiatives started with an excessive focus on individual women and individual choice, instead of aiming at systemic interventions which address institutional cultures and structures (Bhopal, 2019; Jäger, 2010; Ovseiko et al., 2017; Schiebinger, 2016). Some enlightening contributions in this respect were published as a part of a special issue edited by Furst-Holloway and Miner (2019) on the case of the US National Science Foundation’s (NSF) ADVANCE program, aimed at increasing the representation and advancement of women and underrepresented minorities in academic STEM disciplines (i.e. science, technology, engineering and mathematics). The contributions selected by Furst-Holloway and Miner (2019) show the necessity (but also the difficulties) of designing and applying systemic interventions, and the importance of building collaborations and partnerships across different levels, roles and institutions (Bilimoria & Singer, 2019; O’Meara et al., 2019). Some recent contributions undertake a critical perspective to dissect assumptions, implications, and unintended consequences of specific gender equality initiatives (Tzanakou & Pearce, 2019; Yarrow & Johnston, 2022) and, more broadly, of organizational policies and practices aimed at fostering diversity (Kalev & Dobbin, 2020; Noon, 2018; Portocarrero & Carter, 2022; Saba et al., 2021). 
Thus, we make the argument that, in a neoliberal context, gender equality initiatives risk reproducing a market of privilege, which we define as the (neoliberal) system modelling the criteria for access to (and success in) academic and research-related professions. These criteria are shaped along the following lines: 

  1. a (male-centred, middle-classed and raced) definition of ‘excellence’ and a (masculinist) normative career path, leading to new or redefined hierarchies of power and privilege between men and women, probably under different guises than in the past (i.e. it is no longer a question of women’s exclusion from these occupations, but rather of their conditional inclusion); 
  2. a (limited) understanding of the idea of ‘equal treatment’, which focuses on some categories of women, this implying new or redefined hierarchies of power and privilege depending on class, ethnicity, age, and sexual orientation. Furthermore, this market of privilege hinders the epistemic diversity, as conceptualized by Lund et al. (2022), because it privileges individuals reproducing systems of knowledge and beliefs which are in line with the status quo. This fuels a vicious cycle, which makes more difficult to eradicate inequalities. 

This special issue wants to attract papers which critically investigate assumptions and / or implications of gender equality initiatives in higher education and research, so as documented examples of good practice, and their potential interconnections with the market of privilege. The critical perspective is especially important: we believe it is paramount to conduct a rigorous and transparent analysis of what is already in place with no hesitations or fears, to build better alternatives for the future.

List of Topic Areas

The special issue welcomes papers tackling one (or more) of the following objectives: 

  • to elaborate concepts, theories and research methods which are well-suited for the investigation of new and emerging patterns of privilege, in the case of scientific and higher education institutions; 
  • to understand how scientific / academic cultures and practices contribute shaping new patterns of privilege and power hierarchies, and which are the effects for the different actors involved; 
  • to investigate the potential impact of national / regional cultures on patterns of privilege in higher education and research; 
  • to dissect the tensions around the effectiveness, acceptability and unintended consequences of existing approaches to specific gender equality initiatives; 
  • to discover or propose any new strategy to foster gender equality in higher education and research, and to create an alternative vision around the assumptions shaping careers in science and academia; 
  • to understand and demonstrate how scientific and academic organizations can avoid (re-) producing these patterns of privilege through their equality measures; to investigate examples of (inclusive) policies and practices supporting women's professional aspirations, and show what can be learnt from them.

Submissions Information

Submissions are made using ScholarOne Manuscripts. Registration and access are available here.
Author guidelines must be strictly followed. Please see here.
Authors should select (from the drop-down menu) the special issue title at the appropriate step in the submission process, i.e. in response to ““Please select the issue you are submitting to”. 
Submitted articles must not have been previously published, nor should they be under consideration for publication anywhere else, while under review for this journal.

Key Deadlines

Opening date for manuscripts submissions: 1/12/2024 
Closing date for manuscripts submission: 31/12/2024