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The Academic Conference as a Chilly Climate for Women: Effects of Gender Representation on Experiences of Sexism, Coping Responses, and Career Intentions

Abstract

Across many disciplines, women are underrepresented in faculty positions relative to men. The present research focuses on the academic conference as a setting because it is a gateway to an academic career and a context in which women might experience sexism. We surveyed 329 presenters (63% women) from three U.S. national academic conferences, which differed in women-to-men ratios, about their perceptions of the conference climate, their coping tactics (e.g., gender performance, silence, or voice), and their intentions to exit the conference or academia. The greater the representation of women at the conference relative to men, the less likely were women to perceive sexism and to feel they had to behave in a masculine manner in that setting. In contrast, women who perceived the conference as sexist and felt silenced also expressed increased intentions to exit from academic careers. Men’s perceptions of sexism predicted increased intentions to exit from that particular conference, but not from academia. Because conferences signal the norms of a discipline, it is important to explore their climates as they relate to gender. Perhaps especially for new and aspiring female academics, they may signal devalued status and lack of fit and as such play an inadvertent role in the “leaky pipeline.” We discuss strategies that conference organizers could implement to mitigate sexist climates, including broader inclusion of women in speaking and leadership roles and explicit attention to cues that women belong.

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The present manuscript is based on data from the first author’s doctoral dissertation.

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Correspondence to Jacklyn Biggs.

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Biggs, J., Hawley, P.H. & Biernat, M. The Academic Conference as a Chilly Climate for Women: Effects of Gender Representation on Experiences of Sexism, Coping Responses, and Career Intentions. Sex Roles 78, 394–408 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-017-0800-9

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Keywords

  • Sexism
  • Academic settings
  • Gender equality
  • Organizational climate
  • Career commitment