Gender Inequality In Academia

A few weeks ago, Channel 4’s interview with Jordan Peterson went viral, receiving over 4 million views in just one week. If you haven’t already watched it, you can watch it here.

Jordan Peterson is a clinical psychologist and a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, focusing his research on abnormal, social and personality psychology. In the uncomfortable interview with Cathy Newman, they briefly discuss Peterson’s new book, “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos”, in which he argues that men are suffering from a crisis of masculinity and are being forced to adopt more feminine traits. This led them to a long and awkward debate about the gender pay gap.

Newman has been heavily criticised for the interview, as she continually twisted his words in the hope that it would provoke a reaction from him, rather than asking the important questions that need answering. Peterson kept his cool, continually stating that there was “evidence” that the pay gap exists for multiple reasons – ignoring the existence of gender biases. For example, he claimed that evidence suggests that women are more “agreeable” than men, and that agreeable people get paid less. However, research suggests that men who are more agreeable earn less than men who are disagreeable, but for women, there is no relationship [1]. Women earn less than men, regardless.

This interview sparks an interesting debate and made me think about gender inequality in the field of psychology.

Psychology is the second most female-dominated undergraduate degree, shortly behind nursing. As a psychology student myself, I can confirm that this has been my experience at the University of Liverpool, with most undergraduate and masters students being female. Although, regarding the field of Psychology, the ratio of male to female PhD students and academic staff is roughly equal, but unfortunately there are only three female professors, compared to the nine male professors.

This pattern of professors is not restricted to the field of psychology, nor to our university; it is apparent across all domains of academia. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency report (2015), approximately 45% of academic staff are women, yet only 22% of professors are female. However, women are 35% more likely than men to attend university at an undergraduate level. Women also outperform men, with 73% of women achieving a 2:1 or above, compared to 63% of men [2]. But, as the positions in academia get higher, the percentage of women is lower. So, what’s going on?

In 2014, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) altered their review process for grant applications. Previously, the reviews examined both the research and the researcher. Now, in one programme, the reviews examined only on the research, and in another programme, they evaluated the researcher. This accidentally created a natural experiment, whereby researchers could explore differences in the outcome of 24,000 grant applications. Disappointingly, and predictably, the success rate for female researchers was significantly lower than males when the reviewers evaluated the researcher, but not when they evaluated the research itself [3]. Though, there may have been confounding factors contributing to this finding, it appears that gender biases still exist in academia.

Although many people would argue that they believe men and women do not differ in terms of their abilities, research using implicit measures has demonstrated that around 70% of people, including women in academia, implicitly associate men with science, maths and high authority, whereas women were associated with arts, family and low authority [4, 5]. In a double-blind study, academics rated applications of a student – who was randomly given a male or female name – for a lab manager position. The “male” applicant was rated as significantly more hireable and competent, as well as being offered a higher starting salary, than the “female” applicant, despite both applications being identical [6].

But this doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s nothing we can do to change these implicit biases. A recent study explored the use of educational interventions in reducing implicit gender biases in academia, finding that the intervention had a positive effect on implicit biases regarding women and leadership in all participants [7].

Unfortunately, the scope of literature highlighting gender biases in academia is too large to discuss in a single post – these are only a few examples. So, Jordan Peterson may be right in saying that there are multiple reasons for the gender pay gap, but he completely ignores the abundance of evidence showing that gender biases do still exist, especially in academia.

So, what can we do about it? Firstly, we need to acknowledge that these gender biases are still a massive problem in society – we can’t change something if we don’t address it. Universities and schools should implicate educational interventions for both staff and students to try and reduce implicit gender biases in academia. We also need to raise aspirations of young girls and women, by celebrating the achievements of women in academia, creating role models who will encourage others to continue with higher education and scientific research.


[1] Judge, T. A., Livingston, B. A., & Hurst, C. (2012). Do nice guys—and gals—really finish last? The joint effects of sex and agreeableness on income. Journal of personality and social psychology, 102(2), 390.

[2] Higher Education Statistics 2014/15. (2015). Retrieved from

[3] Guglielmi, G. (January 26, 2018). Gender bias goes away when grant reviewers focus on the science. Retrieved from

[4] Rudman, L. A., & Kilianski, S. E. (2000). Implicit and explicit attitudes toward female authority. Personality and social psychology bulletin, 26(11), 1315-1328.

[5] Sabin, D. J. A., Nosek, D. B. A., Greenwald, D. A. G., & Rivara, D. F. P. (2009). Physicians’ implicit and explicit attitudes about race by MD race, ethnicity, and gender. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 20(3), 896. doi:  10.1353/hpu.0.0185

[6] Moss-Racusin, C. A., Dovidio, J. F., Brescoll, V. L., Graham, M. J., & Handelsman, J. (2012). Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(41), 16474-16479.

[7] Girod, S., Fassiotto, M., Grewal, D., Ku, M. C., Sriram, N., Nosek, B. A., & Valantine, H. (2016). Reducing implicit gender leadership bias in academic medicine with an educational intervention. Academic Medicine, 91(8), 1143-1150. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000001099

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