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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2022  |  Volume : 17  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 915-919

Women faculty in higher education: A social identity lens to gender issues

1 Department of Data Sciences, Prasanna School of Public Health, Manipal Academy of Higher Education; Strategy and General Management, T A Pai Management Institute, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal, Karnataka, India
2 Department of Community Medicine, Melaka Manipal Medical College, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal, Karnataka, India
3 Department of Data Sciences, Prasanna School of Public Health, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal, Karnataka, India
4 Social Work Programme, Prasanna School of Public Health, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal, Karnataka, India
5 Department of Community Medicine, Kasturba Medical College, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal, Karnataka, India

Date of Submission08-Jan-2022
Date of Decision13-Sep-2022
Date of Acceptance14-Sep-2022
Date of Web Publication10-Feb-2023

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Shreemathi S Mayya
Department of Data Sciences, Prasanna School of Public Health, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal, Udupi, Karnataka
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/jdmimsu.jdmimsu_8_22

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Introduction: Women's participation in the higher education sector, globally and in India, has seen a steep increase over the past two decades. Despite this increase, women still have several challenges to face in the workplace. The aim of this study was to try and understand the issues faced by women in higher education. Methods: This qualitative study uses focus group discussions to open dialog with Indian women who are eligible to occupy/currently occupy administrative positions in higher education to understand their issues, struggles, and realities within the realm of higher education. The study uses the social identity theory to contextualize the experiences of women in higher education and divides the analysis into the broad themes of social categorization, social identification, and social comparison. Results: The study finds that women face specific bias in the sector, deal with the dual responsibilities of caregiving and work duties, and also face stereotyping and lack of acceptance in the workplace. Women have mentioned that they need to alter their team management style and leadership styles since, often, men did not seem to be comfortable with being managed by women. Conclusions: The study indicates the need for training for all members of higher education on gender issues, especially issues with the management of both home and workplace duties, the need to have mentors and individuals to look up to, and the need for supportive policies for women to be able to succeed in higher education.

Keywords: Academics, challenges, dual role, female role, gender discrimination

How to cite this article:
Venkat P, Sekaran VC, Mayya SS, Ashok L, Kamath VG. Women faculty in higher education: A social identity lens to gender issues. J Datta Meghe Inst Med Sci Univ 2022;17:915-9

How to cite this URL:
Venkat P, Sekaran VC, Mayya SS, Ashok L, Kamath VG. Women faculty in higher education: A social identity lens to gender issues. J Datta Meghe Inst Med Sci Univ [serial online] 2022 [cited 2023 Nov 29];17:915-9. Available from: https://journals.lww.com/dmms/pages/default.aspx/text.asp?2022/17/4/915/369519

  Introduction Top

In the past two decades, globally, many countries have seen a significant increase in women, both as students and as professionals in higher education.[1],[2],[3] Yet, the phenomenon of the glass ceiling is experienced by women in higher education as much as their counterparts in other sectors.[4],[5],[6] Barriers become more evident when it comes to women occupying positions of administrative responsibility or leadership in higher education.[7] Women face a significant amount of disadvantages in the workplace in higher education and navigating these realities and emerging as leaders in the sector is no mean task.[8]

In the specific case of India, the country's female enrollment in higher education currently stands at 18.2 million females with the numbers also showing a significant increase in institutes of national eminence.[9] Similarly, the total number of teachers in higher education has also grown with female teachers showing 4.35% of increase to 42.2% of the total teacher strength in higher education in India.

Yet, at the university level, this number reduces to 36.65%.[9] Even within the university confines, women seem to occupy assistant professor positions more than senior positions or positions of authority. Studies find that women remain restricted to positions of middle management and rarely raise to a position of senior-level manager, deans, or vice-chancellors in higher education in India.[10] Aiston and Yang have famously alluded to this phenomenon as the discourse of the “absent women” noting that women remain underrepresented as well as their narrative seems to be largely west focused.[2] Women, therefore, despite being in a better position than before, still have heights to scales and ceilings to shatter before making their mark felt.[3]

This study looks at the Indian woman and her journey to the upper level of management in the Indian higher education sector.

Theoretical framework

The study uses the social identity theory to understand the experiences of Indian women in higher education. The social identity theory was propounded by Tajfel[11] and Turner[12] and has been used widely in understanding group dynamics and social processes. The three main aspects of the theory include social categorization, social identification, and social comparison. Gender, as a construct, has long been considered a social identity and women have either, consciously or unconsciously, striven to identify with this group.

Social categorization speaks of aspects of the social identity theory where certain traits help individuals to identify with a specific group.[13] Social comparison is where one group compares themselves with another and finds themselves at either an advantage, disadvantage, or having a sense of equity.[14] Social identification are the parameters, habits, mannerisms, behaviours and rules by which individuals identify with a group or feel a sense of belongingness to groups.[15] These are actions taken or demands that are made to further adhere to the expectations from the group.

This article used social identity theory to help unpack the experiences of women in higher education. Using the themes of social categorization, social comparison, and social identification, we looked at the depth of the experiences of women, their challenges, and barriers.

  Methods Top

This qualitative study was conducted using focus group discussions (FGDs) as a data collection methodology. The objective of the study was to try and identify the struggles faced by female faculty members in academic careers and hence members were chosen based on experience in their field. A purposive sampling method was used for the data collection. The inclusion criterion for the FGD was 10 years of experience in higher education and preferably in the same institution. A total of five FGDs were conducted among female faculty members, and one additional FGD was conducted among male faculty members for comparison. The researchers chose female faculty members from private and government colleges for the scope of the study from the state of Karnataka in India. Each group comprised 7–9 individuals satisfying the inclusion criteria. The focus group discussions lasted between 40 min and 1 h. The study was registered under the Ethics Committee of Kasturba Medical College. Informed written and oral consent was taken from all the participants and complete confidentiality was maintained throughout the process of the study.

Three FGDs with female participants were conducted in government colleges and two FGDs with female participants were conducted in private colleges. Additionally, one FGD with male participants was conducted in the same government college as one of the FGD's with female participants to enable comparison of data. The average age of the participants was 40 years and the average experience level was 15 years. Thematic analysis was used to analyze the data and codes and the researchers used the  Atlas More Details.ti software for the analysis. This software is offered as a product by a company named ATLAS.ti GmbH and is developed by Thomas Muhr in 1993 in Berlin, Germany.

  Results Top

Data collected during this study have been subdivided into three themes/categories of social categorization, social identification, and social comparison. The subthemes have been defined in a manner that they overarchingly fall within the purview of these themes. A brief categorization of the themes into subthemes is given below in [Table 1].
Table 1: Social identity theory into subthemes for analysis

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In [Table 1], under social categorization, aspects and subthemes that respond to the role of external and internal forces that affect the way of thinking and the expectations from individuals have been included. These include social expectations, the role of family and their expectations, role of the institution and expectations from the institutions, and the participants' expectations from their own self.

Under social identification, we have categorized the experiences shared by participants detailing the aspects of their behavior that they change to suit the expectations from them. This subtheme has been titled “changing behavior to suit social expectations.”

Finally, under the theme of social comparison, we have looked at the discussion points where participants, especially female participants, have compared themselves, their resources, and the responses of external environment to their male peers. This theme includes experiences of bias, discrimination, lack of support for women in the institution, and the resulting stress and its effect on the health of women.

Social categorization

Under social categorization, one subtheme has been identified as social expectations. Here, women have spoken about the expectations from them as individuals and from the roles/duties that they play at the home and work front. The predominant theme in the discussions were the dual roles that women play as career women and as care givers, especially for their children. Many have clearly mentioned the term “double shift” or “second shift” stating that their work starts when the work of men finishes. This has been spoken about in detail in the seminal work of Arlie Hochschild and Anne Machung where they speak about women's second shift at home and the “leisure gap” between men and women.[16] Many women have mentioned that they feel the pressures of working in these dual roles as career women and as homemakers and caregivers. Several have mentioned that managing these dual roles leads to stress, health issues, and concern about their well-being. This is reflected in multiple studies from Grummell et al.[17] The sense of responsibility toward their children and the tendency to prioritize their family's needs over their personal need, even at the cost of their own health, has been acknowledged by women in this study.

Participants mentioned that they refused roles or promotions since they believed that any additional role than caregiving interfered with their caregiving duties to their families. Aspects of this have been delved into by researchers such as Morley and Crossouard[3] in their work on women in higher education in South Asia.

FGD5P4“We have a huge work burden, and this is the reason for denying certain roles. We shoulder the entire responsibility of families…women also do the “second shift” when we do work once home from office since home-based care is a round-the-clock job.”

Women had also spoken about expectations from them as women and as being unaccepted as individuals who can be dominant or as ambitious. Women are not expected to be ambitious, and women and men struggle to accept an ambitious woman.

FDG1P4“They cannot accept an ambitious woman.”

Such biases toward successful and ambitious women have been examined in research earlier as well by authors such as Easterly and Ricard.[18] The area of women and their ambitious and tough stances has also been worked on extensively with research identifying that such a stance is often seen as a liability for women.[19],[20]

Within social expectation, also comes the role of the family – and its expectations from women. These can be further divided into attitude of the family toward the woman's career and the family's specific needs and requirements.

In one anecdotal example, one respondent mentioned that:

FGD1P6 – “I had been called for a highly prestigious competitive process. After I passed the final round and got selected for the post, my father made enquiries and told me that he did not want me to take any roles that meant travelling and that I should take up a safer and more stable job. This has had a huge impact on me.”

The attitude of the family toward the woman and her career was also mentioned as very critical in reaching a certain stage of advancement for each working woman. Around four female participants mentioned that they have experienced family members enabling their guilt-ridden feelings, whether subtly or overtly. Several other studies have earlier as well examined this role of guilt in women and their decisions, especially with women in the higher education sector.[21],[22]

FGD3P1“But putting the child for long hours in day care would also attract further guilt from family members and ourselves which is something we would just have to live with.”

Faculty members in government colleges did not face overt gender discrimination unless there were cases of discrimination in nomination processes. However, there was a constant need to keep oneself motivated to follow the path and meet the requirements of the job. This was mentioned as a major issue in the male FGD where the men faculty seemed to respond to the expected trope of being career oriented, whereas the women seemed to be happy to have a job in the first place, a common area of research for the past two decades.[23],[24]

Further, the role played by the institution in providing support to women employees comes within the broader theme of social categorization. Many participants had mentioned the need for specific types of training, ranging from gender sensitization training for male faculty members in administrative positions, leadership training for all members who were aspiring to become administrators, and training in institutional policies and rules for all to get equal chances to reach certain positions. Specifically, for women, the participants have spoken about the need for training from a young age in becoming ambitious, challenging gendered stereotypes, and promoting advancement in careers.

Social identification

In this case of this study, it is to be noted that the dual role that women play also has an impact on their expectations as female members of the higher education sector in the country. As a result, a number of them make changes to their demands from management or their styles of management to suit these social expectations.

The participants have also mentioned that women are not trained to be authoritative and hence there is a considerable difference in men's and women's leadership styles. This is often also perceived by individuals in various sectors and is found to be a direct impact on the social fabric in the research context as is reflected in studies by authors such as Heilman et al.,[25] (Duehr and Bono, 2006),[26] and Budhwar et al.[27] as well as Isaac et al.[28] Those in positions of leadership have mentioned that as women, they often had to alter their team management or leadership styles, especially if they had a mixed team.

FGD1P7“In case there are other senior members (male) in our team, and we have to lead/manage them, this would create issues.”

FGD4P6“Women as leaders have to be different than men-specially to manage mixed teams. Women need to be diplomatic and need to create strategies that benefit everyone and do not antagonize anyone.”

On the same note, a number of the female participants had spoken about the need to be accepted by their male colleagues, especially if they become leaders.

FGD2P9“In the long line of women in administrative positions, the first woman has to bear the brunt of proving herself and women in general.”

Social comparison

When it comes to social comparison, within the social identity theory, the female participants in the study have mentioned a few aspects where they have compared themselves as a group to the male group in their context. Participants spoke about the biases that they faced in terms of comparison to their male colleagues. Women have spoken about being asked about their child-bearing plans when given administrative positions, not being considered for positions and the assumption that they would not want it due to home workload, etc. They contrasted this with male colleagues who did not have to face the same issues.

FGD4P7“When women are offered administrative or senior leadership roles, we are often asked about their family plans. This is a subtle form of discrimination that is prevalent in a few places.”

FGD4P1“To prove that we are serious about our work, we women, often have to take up very menial jobs and repeatedly prove ourselves in all spheres.”

The lack of female leaders to look up to also had a significant impact on the aspirations of rising female faculty members. However, the female participants also mentioned that when women refused positions, they made life for future female candidates very difficult. This refusal feeds into the narrative that women do not want roles of authority and that they will not take such roles up and is an excuse to not be offered such roles in future as well.

FGD2P9“As women we represent women everywhere and that when one woman refuses a position, the assumption is that all women will not do the work and hence the next woman in line will not be given an opportunity. Hence it is important that when a woman is given an opportunity, she has to prove not only herself, but she also has to prove for all women.”

This is similar to research findings from other studies such as Renanda Dear[29] and Gandhi and Sen[10] who find that women need to persevere and work hard to prove their worth, take their careers more seriously, and lay an easier path for women in future.

Higher education issues through a gender-comparative lens

To better understand the nuances of the male and female experiences in the higher education space, the researchers also conducted one FGD in the same institution with male faculty members with similar experience levels. The male members pointed out that the lack of guidance, supervision, and mentorship stagnated their careers and did not allow them to grow. The women in the same institution, on the other hand, had mentioned that teaching was a conducive career that was suitable for women since it allowed them to play both the roles at the work and home front well and did not have any issues with their work culture. This seemed to feed into the image that women were not trained to be ambitious and seemed to be satisfied with what is available to them, whereas men seemed to want future prospects and career growth in their jobs.

  Discussion Top

The study uses the social identity theory to try to place the specific experiences of women faculty members within the social context of India and finds that women categorize themselves as a specific group, compare themselves to their male counterparts, and act in accordance with their gender.

Women, in the study, have spoken about the expectations from them as working individuals and as caregivers at the home front. They have spoken about the subsequent feelings of guilt and inadequacy that comes with these two roles, the need to prioritize home duties to the responsibilities at the workplace and the associated stigma and stereotyping that comes with such decisions. Women have spoken about refusing roles with higher responsibilities to fulfill home-based needs and being stereotyped at the workplace into specific jobs and roles.

With regard to institutional policies, women have highlighted the need for safety at the workplace, flexible timings, and the need to be treated as equals to their male counterparts. Women have mentioned that not being treated equally and not being trained to be vocal and ambitious has led to women feeling a sense of fear to voice their opinions, guilt about prioritizing one role over another, and a need to apologize for their decisions.

The study also finds that women have specifically mentioned the difference in treatment that they face as compared to their male colleagues in subtle manners such as not being nominated for roles involving finances, being asked about family plans when offered a position, and being stereotyped to certain roles and activities.

Women have also mentioned that they need to alter their team management style and leadership styles since, often, men did not seem to be comfortable with being managed by women. Women mentioned having more of a participatory style of management and “taking everyone along” rather than having an authoritative style of management. This emphasizes on the fact that despite having a position of authority in a particular context, women may not use the same when it comes to the management of mixed teams.

At the same time, two FGDs, one with female and one with male participants, in the same college, show that while men have mentioned that they rue the lack of incentive to perform and external push to innovate, women have mentioned satisfaction with the workplace and have mentioned that schemes were available for those who were self-motivated. This seems to feed into the narrative that men feel the need for career advancement while women should be satisfied with having a job in the first place.

  Conclusion Top

The study indicates the need for training for all members of higher education on gender issues, especially issues with the management of both home and workplace duties, the need to have mentors and individuals to look up to, and the need for supportive policies for women to be able to succeed in higher education.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest

  References Top

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