Who you gonna call? Your female professors!

The number of women in academia is on the rise, but it remains important to remember that females are still facing harsh expectations that make working as a professor that much more difficult. Not only are there limitations like the gender pay gap and poor maternity support, but female professors also face the biases and judgements of their students due to their gender.

Just at the beginning of this year, two studies conducted by Amani El-Alayli from the Eastern Washington University in the United States showed that students tend to turn to female professors when in need of favours.

Based on a survey of 88 academics, El-Alayli’s team illustrated that female professors reported more requests for “standard work demands, special favours, and friendship behaviours.”

The researchers also conducted a second experiment: a theoretical scenario where the subjects had to describe how they might act if in need of a favour from a female versus a male professor.  

The team concluded that students expect more of their female professors and are therefore more likely to ask for favours. It seemed that a participant’s stance on feminism or sexism did not determine what kind of requests they would make or how they would respond if they were denied, but rather those “who [felt] deserving of success in college regardless of effort/performance” played a large role in determining their actions.

These “academically entitled” students are more likely to be persistent in asking for favours and have a higher expectation of them being granted. If they are not, such students have a tendency to blame their personal relationship with the professor, rather than the disposition of the request.

“Our research provides more information about how students treat female professors, how they react to them when the professors stand their ground, and what kinds of students are particularly likely to treat female professors differently from male professors,” said El-Alayli via ScienceDaily.

The team suggested that the high expectations students have of their female professors stems from social stereotypes. Women are oftentimes perceived as warmer and more caring, which can translate to an expectation of them being so. Such assumptions can lead to “academic momism” and a higher level of emotional labour for women without recognition.

Perceiving women to be motherly and caring certainly puts a lot of pressure and expectations on their shoulders. For female academics it can mean lower evaluation scores or less time spent on their own research. Resultantly, their careers would grow slower and be much more difficult to advance.  

While a lot of such assumptions are likely unintentional, it is important to be aware of our behaviours so that we may work to decrease our biases instead of cultivating them.

Image: JJ Thompson via Unsplash

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