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Center of Excellence Women and Science

Gender Bias In Academia

Introduction And Definitions

Gender bias in academia is an approach to describing and understanding gender inequalities in academia. In addition to research on gender bias, this starting point is also taken up for change. To understand the mostly English-language research literature and approaches, the basic terminology - gender, bias, and homosociability/homophily - is explained below.

The English term gender is usually translated to German as "social sex" (Wende, 2002). Since there is no corresponding term in German-speaking countries, gender is also used in German. Gender refers to the socially constructed sex of a person. As early as 1949, Simone de Beauvoir sparked the discussion about the construction of gender with her statement, "One is not born a woman, one is made one" in her work "The Other Sex" (Holland-Cunz, 2021). In 1955, psychologist John Money introduced the concept of gender roles or gender identity (Money & Ebehardt, 1955). This describes behaviours of individuals that are related to their gender identity. For Money, these behaviours are a product of, for example, education and are not related to a person's biological sex. In 1987, West and Zimmermann broadened the understanding of gender to separate sex and gender. Thus, sex is referred to as the biological sex and gender as the social sex.

Doing Gender refers to the active production and performance of gender: Gender is not a finished, final product, but is created repeatedly. For this purpose, people draw on acquired knowledge about gender-typical ways of acting and behaving and thus reproduce the respective gender. Against Money's, West's and Zimmermann's assumption of separating social and biological gender and their assumption that only social gender can be constructed, the US-American philosopher Judith Butler (1990) postulates that sex and gender are constructed. The lived gender is dependent on the biological gender and the physiological possibilities, which are connected with it. This makes it impossible for Butler to separate the two. Butler also rejects the dichotomy of gender (binarity). For her, the body represents a kind of canvas that individuals describe according to existing possibilities and through cultural practices (Holland-Cunz, 2021). Thus, non-binary gender identities (non-binary) are an integral part of queer theory.

CEWS considers the current discourse around gender and the associated conceptualizations and differentiations. The studies presented on the topic page reflect the current state of research and the fact that this research literature still predominantly distinguishes between females and males in a binary way.


Butler (1990). Gender Trouble. Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Routledge.

Holland-Cunz (2021): Geschlecht (sex and gender). In: Kirchhoff, Thomas (ed.): Online Encyclopedia Philosophy of Nature / Online Lexikon Naturphilosophie. doi: 10.11588/oepn.2021.2.85090

Money, Hampson & Hampson (1955). An Examination of Some Basic Sexual       Concepts: The Evidence of Human Hermaphroditism. In: Bulletin of the Johns Hopkins Hospital. Band 97, Nr. 4, 1. pp. 301–319.

Money & Eberhard (1972). Man and Woman, Boy and Girl: Gender Identity from Conception to Maturity. Johns Hopkins University Press.

Wende (2002). Gender/Geschlecht. In: Metzler Lexikon Gender Studies/Gechlechterforschung.Ansätze – Personen – Grundbegriffe. Edited by Knoll, Renate. Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler, pp. 141-142.

West & Zimmerman (1987). Doing gender. Gender & society, 1(2), pp. 125-151.

Bias refers to cognitive distortion effects that influence our perceptions, actions, and behaviour. These biases affect preconceptions, attitudes, and stereotypes in an implicit, unconscious way, which is why implicit bias is usually used synonymously with unconscious bias. Implicit bias is thus the result of mental associations we experience through direct and indirect messages. Implicit Bias can be both positively and negatively. Implicit Bias is similar to Explicit Bias, but unlike Explicit Bias, Implicit Bias does not necessarily coincide with our conscious beliefs and reflective attitudes. As an unconscious and involuntary bias, Implicit Bias, present in all people, influences decision-making behaviour and causes structural inequalities. Therefore, it is essential to understand implicit bias to reduce social inequality and discrimination. The best-known online tool for checking one's bias is the Harvard implicit association test (IAT), which is not based on individual self-reports but uses a measurement procedure to capture social attitudes.

The connection between implicit and explicit bias is demonstrated by Mavda, among others, through relevant studies. The background of this connection is everyday experiences and socialization moments of the de facto separation of different social groups as well as the media's abundance of stereotypical representations. In addition, personal experiences, values and attitudes can reduce or increase implicit bias. While explicit bias transforms into implicit bias mainly through prejudice-reducing education, implicit bias becomes explicit bias through normalising prejudice.

Gender bias refers to systematic biasing effects shaped by gender-related stereotyping and prejudice and influence perceptions and decisions. Gender bias operates not only in everyday situations, in communication and decision-making but also in science and research, for example, concerning research design and results and personnel policy decisions. It thus shapes science and research despite supposedly objective standards of performance and evaluation and despite the ethos of independent, gender-neutral research. For example, studies demonstrate gender bias in selection and promotion processes, funding and financing opportunities, and teaching evaluations. You may find summary accounts in the publications of LERU, ECU or STI Conference). The article "Does Gender Bias Still Affect Women in Science?" also provides a good overview of the state of research.

The papers refer to the connection between gender bias, racial bias and other biases, and the fundamental challenge of analyzing bias intersectionally, which includes considering several dimensions of inequality in their interconnection with the dimension of gender. To date, few studies perform an intersectional analysis in which they examine gender bias and racial bias in their interconnectedness. The 2012 collection of essays "Presumed Incompetent. The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia" points to an increased awareness in research on bias from an intersectional perspective and an increasing number of studies on Black women in academia.

Homosociality describes the preference for people similar to us and the orientation of the members of this social group to each other. Rosabeth Moss Kanters first described this phenomenon in 1977 in the study "Men and women of the corporation". In selection procedures at universities and research institutions, homosociality leads to hiring applicants who appear similar to the selectors in appearance, behaviour, and specific social categories such as gender and origin. This reproduces a certain type of manager and employee. This phenomenon also referred to as the mini-me effect and homophily, increases with increasing hierarchical levels and management positions and is one explanation for the glass ceiling that continues to be effective in denying women access to top positions and management levels. However, empirical studies exploring mini-me effects in application and selection processes are still largely lacking. Studies such as "Homophily in higher edcuation" refer to the phenomenon of homophily but do not investigate its exact mode of action.