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How Women Can Rise In Academia

In honor of International Women’s Day, we celebrate women in academia—and acknowledge the long road women still must travel to rise to the top. There are wages to be equalized, jobs to be had, obstacles to overcome, and glass ceilings to shatter. Let’s take a closer look at five strategies for women to rise in academia.

Sep 6, 2023
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How Women Can Rise In Academia

Today is International Women’s Day! We’re unsure why it’s only one day on many levels. Today we’ll focus on women in the academic world.

The goal of International Women's Day is to encourage women, and men, to continue to fight for equality and gender parity in all aspects of society. You probably already know that women around the world are often paid less than their male counterparts, but education is helping to equalize the gender pay-gap. Still, even in academia, where the playing field is levelling, women face inequalities in both compensation and representation. Despite women’s outnumbering men in university enrollment and graduation rates, women on many campuses continue to make at least 20 percent less than their male counterparts, often experience discriminatory hiring practices that force them into adjunct positions as opposed from tenure-track positions, and are frequently overlooked for under-represented positions, especially in STEM fields.

So: what’s a woman in the academic world to do? Continue to be herself. Here are five strategies for women who are pushing and making cracks in that glass ceiling. How can women rise in academia?

Discussing Statistics At Meeting

1. Ignore Stereotypes

You’re not bossy. You’re assertive. You’re not meek. You know when to be quiet—so that you can be heard when you have something to say. You’re not obnoxious. You’re funny.

You’re not trying to act like a man. You are yourself.

Do not let others call you out on behavior that they would never even comment on in a man. In academia, a man’s bossiness is often seen as an asset—a guide. A man’s quietness is seen as wisdom. And a man’s humor—sometimes—is appropriate to the situation. You have all the same qualities. Don’t fall for men’s stereotypes about you—and sometimes other women’s stereotypes about you. Be yourself. Don’t let others dictate who you are and how you act.

Successful business woman standing on the bridge

2. Build Confidence: Apply to Jobs

You can’t get a job or a promotion or recognition without putting yourself out there and applying. Women need to roll up their sleeves, focus on what they want, and then go and get it—with realistic expectations. You need to be resilient and not balk at failure.

Own the decisions you make—apply frequently, take jobs you want, and do the best you can do.

No, you can’t have it all—no one can. But women: you can have more than you think. Get yourself out there. Tell yourself you can do it and do it. Give it a try.

Three business women in modern office celebrating good project results.

3. Network

Women need to work together and support each other. Women benefit from mentoring and networking programs. A few programs, like Journeys in World Politics, Women in International Security, Women in Conflict Studies, the Society for Women in International Political Economy, and the International Studies Association Pay It Forward program offer mentoring programs to women who want to make it in academia. Connect yourself—and put yourself out there.

Portrait of a young, confident manager sitting by the desk and pointing at a blackboard filled with charts behind her

4. Showcase Your Work

Studies suggest that women are less likely than men to write op-eds, blogs, Twitter posts, and use other social media. Start doing those things. Make yourself a website where people can visit and read your work. Start a blog post about your academic work. Promote your work social media like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Send out a press release when you’ve achieved something in your department. Write letters to the editor. Make yourself known.


5. Never Give Up

If at first you don’t succeed… try again and again and again. Consider the story of Robin Sakamoto, Kyorin University’s Dean of the Faculty of Foreign Studies. Sakamoto is the second foreign woman ever to earn a deanship in Japan—she’s American. One of her goals is to help improve attitudes and regulations about gender equality and work-life balance in Japan. Sakamoto, a woman in academia, pushed through boundaries—but not without falling first. She got back up, and continues to do so.

So can you.