Beyond controversy: gender-quota implementation in academic decision-making bodies

Datum: 4 september 2018

Locatie: Promotiezaal Grauwzusters - Lange Sint-Annastraat 7 - 2000 Antwerpen

Tijdstip: 10 uur

Promotor: Prof Petra Meier, Prof Henk de Smaele

Korte beschrijving: PhD defence Jolien Voorspoels - Department of Political Science


Since decades, and worldwide, scholars have been examining phenomena of gender inequality in academia and gender-equality policies instigated to address them. The representation of women in academic decision-making can be considered as both a matter of inequality to be tackled, and, once tackled, as one of the bases for furthering gender equality in academia. Surprisingly, we currently lack insight into what actually happens when academic organizations implement gender quotas as a gender-equality policy measure that sets certain limits to gender under- or over-representation in decision-making bodies.

This dissertation opens the black box of gender-quota implementation in academic decisionmaking bodies at the University of Antwerp. The reality of implementing gender-equality policy measures is often more complex and messy than we might assume when debating and adopting a policy measure towards particular aims. Through a mixed-methods approach, thisstudy reveals in more detail what university actors think about gender quotas (staff attitudes), what they actually do when implementing gender quotas (practices), and how gender-quota implementation affects gender equality in academic decision-making (impact).

The findings indicate that to what extent actors recognize gender inequality as a problem and consider diversity policies important explains how support for gender-quota implementation differs. Furthermore, actors implement gender quotas through various practices, having different practical and procedural knowledge of compliance. These practices can have supportive but also undermining effects on women’s representation in academic decisionmaking. Additionally, we learn that the gender gap in academic decision-making decreases because more, and from various organizational positions, women hold mandates, without overburdening a select few. Yet, men are still the majority among academic leaders. Genderquota implementation remains a complex process and this dissertation shows that we should consider tensions arising in this process as being useful. By breaking the silence on the status quo, tensions reveal the embedded organizational practices of the university. As well, tensions engage more diverse voices in the university to speak up about gender (in)equality and lead to (support for) other (gender) equality initiatives to be undertaken at the university.

To conclude, the implementation of gender quotas in academic decision-making bodies contributes to gender equality in academia, however, not always as (direct as) we might have expected.

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