Seminar: Exploring the gender gap in research productivity at a Norwegian research institute

Seminar: Exploring the gender gap in research productivity at a Norwegian research institute

Public Seminar: Why Jenny can’t publish: Exploring the gender gap in research productivity at a Norwegian research institute
Date and Venue: Wednesday 16th March: 13.00 hours in F1030
By Lynn P. Nygaard, Peace Research Institute Oslo, Norway; IoE, University College London, UK
Under the aegis of the Dept of Sociology; Gender ARC; FESTA and the MA in Sociology

Research productivity – that is, the quality and quantity of published output from research – is a matter of great concern at research producing institutes all over the world, and most studies show that men publish more than women, although these findings are inconsistent. Most research on this gender gap, often referred to as the “productivity puzzle”, has been largely quantitative in nature, and theorizing has been patchy. Little qualitative research has been done to understand how academics make decisions that will have an impact on their measured productivity – what to publish, where to publish it, whether or not to collaborate, and how to make time to write – and to what extent these decisions might be gendered. The context of the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) in Norway offers a unique opportunity to observe challenges to productivity under some of the most favorable conditions possible: no teaching obligations for the research staff, and some of the most progressive gender balance policies in the world when it comes to parental leave. Yet the productivity gap remains, particularly among the younger researchers. Preliminary analysis of publications statistics at PRIO show that women write fewer monographs, co-author less (particularly outside the institute), and publish less often in high ranking journals; however, the measured productivity gap is highly sensitive to how productivity is measured. The purpose of this study is to explore how the inconsistencies in the research productivity literature on the gender gap might be explained by academic writing being a situated social practice. I used a mixed methods approach that included observation of the institutional culture and writing practices at PRIO (based on my role as “literacy broker”), in-depth interviews of 19 researchers (both men and women), and analysis of productivity data. Using an academic literacies framework, I see productivity not as a straightforward result of time spent on writing and investment in research, but rather a result of negotiations between aspects of identity (including what is experienced as meaningful and perceptions of competence) and beliefs about the institutional environment (including perceptions of what is valued or expected). These negotiations result in behaviors and strategies that affect what is produced. Findings suggest that several of these negotiations have a gendered dimension. For example, several female informants were stymied by paralyzing perfectionism with respect to their academic output, and yet implied that it was more threatening to be seen as a bad parent than a bad researcher. This has implications for their decisions about when something was ready to submit, whether or not to aim at high ranking journals, and how much time to spend writing outside of office hours. Moreover, taking part in committee work (or other types of service) sometimes requires women to balance career ambitions with the ethical responsibility of “representing women.” Without a critical mass of women, female researchers remain acutely aware of a tension between their own needs as writers and their responsibility to represent their gender in other contexts. In other words, in addition to negotiations related to “work-life” balance, many of these women face negotiations related to “work-work” balance.