Who is seen to be doing business research, and does it really matter? Gender representation at academic conferences

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal, 2020, ahead-of-print, (ahead-of-print)
Issue Date:
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PurposeGender inequality is evident in many academic practices, but research has often focused on the male-dominated science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. This study responds to calls for more work in the business disciplines which have been overlooked by comparison and focuses on academic conferences as a higher education practice. Conferences are manifestations of the research being conducted within the discipline, representing the type of knowledge that is considered valuable, and who the thought leaders are considered to be. This study investigates whether equal representation of women at such conferences really matters, to whom and why.Design/methodology/approachThe research was designed using a critical feminist theory approach. An online survey was disseminated to academic staff and postgraduate students in the 25 top ranked business schools in Australia and New Zealand. A total of 452 responses were received, and thematic analysis was applied to open-ended responses.FindingsEqual representation does matter, for two sets of reasons. The first align with feminist theory perspectives of “equal opportunity” (gender is neutral), “difference” (gender is celebrated) or “post-equity” (the social construction of gender itself is problematic). The second are pragmatic consequences, namely the importance of role modelling, career building and the respect and recognition that come with conference attendance and visible leadership roles.Social implicationsThe findings have implications in regards to job satisfaction, productivity and the future recruitment and retention of women in academia. Furthermore, in areas where women are not researching, the questions and issues that are important to them are not receiving the attention they deserve, and this gender data gap has consequences for society at large.Originality/valueThis study moves beyond simply identifying the under-representation of women at academic conferences in yet another field, to investigate why equal representation is important and to whom. It provides valuable evidence of the consequences of under-representation, as perceived by academics themselves.
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