1. Perceived gender differences between men and women

Oxford Learning Institute
University of Oxford
1. Perceived gender differences between men and women: ambition and selfpromotion
A recent study based on four UK universities (Doherty and Manfredi 2005) shows that in
the opinion of senior academic staff women are more reticent to put themselves forward
for promotion and more likely to undervalue their achievements:
“My impression is that the average woman – even high achievers, are more modest
about their achievements and less assertive about them than the average man” Senior
academic woman
“Women on the whole are more reluctant to put themselves forward for positions and
very often you have to encourage women. I do not think it comes naturally to women,
certainly in academia, to boast their achievements” Senior academic man
“Women are slow to put themselves forward and I feel that I should have put myself
forward earlier, but I felt reticent and culturally inhibited. I am not a retiring violet, but I
waited to be asked”. Senior academic woman
When women apply for promotion in the opinion of senior decision makers they tend to
under sell themselves while their male colleagues tend to oversell themselves:
“ I think it is quite surprising how relatively senior women remain cautious and doubtful
about their achievements in spite of a lot of evidence to the contrary in a way that men at
a similar level by and large do not. Men are usually much more confident about their
achievements almost to the other extreme of being rather confident, over estimating
what they have done and their achievements”. Senior male academic
For further evidence and discussion on these points see:
Chesterman, C. et al. ( 2005), “Not doable jobs! Exploring senior women’s attitudes to
academic leadership roles”, Women’s Studies International Forum 28, pp.163-180
Doherty L., Manfredi S. (2006) “Women’s progression to senior positions in English
universities”, Employee Relations, Vol.28 No.6, pp.553-572
Morley, L. (1999) Organising Feminism: The Micropolitics of the Academy. London:
Vinnicombe, S. and Singh, V. (2002), “Developing tomorrow’s women business
leaders2, in Burke, R.J and Nelson, D. (Eds), Advancing Women’s Careers
On the basis of your experience do you agree or disagree with these perceptions?
What do you think you could do to encourage women to be more open about their
achievements and confident about expressing them?
2. Perceived gender differences between men and women: career experiences
As part of the same research 56 interviews were carried out with men and women (29
with women and 27 with men) who are in mid career or occupy senior posts to
investigate their career experiences and aspirations. Some gender differences have
consistently emerged from the accounts given by men and women about their careers:
Oxford Learning Institute
University of Oxford
Women appear to plan less their careers than men
Although the actual career routes of men and women were similar, there seemed to be
gender differences about the extent to which women and men had planned their career.
12 women out of the 29 interviewed mentioned that they never had specific career plans,
while only 4 men out of the 27 interviewed mentioned this. who were interviewed, stated
that they did not plan their careers while only Typical women statements were as
‘I never really made any definite decisions about my career’ Female professor
‘All of my jobs have happened by accident and the management job happened by
default’ Female in a senior academic role
Also it was found that 11 of the men interviewed were planning to progress to a higher
levels of academic administration or to professorial conferment, compared to only 4 of
the women interviewed who expressed to have such plans.
On the basis of your experience to what extent do you agree that women tend to plan
less for their career?
Work-life balance issues
Sometimes women’s career aspirations may be more limited as they tend to take a more
holistic view of life and pay more attention to their work-life balance:
‘ I have serious reservations about applying for a Pro VC position as I want to look after
myself and have a life. …I think people who are in these roles are expected to ruin their
health’. Female professor
‘I feel it is possible to job-share senior posts. There are a number of men who are not
doing full-time jobs because they are out serving on committees. They do not give
100%, they give 50% to their institutions because they have roles on external
committees. It is a total fiction that you cannot split jobs at this level or go on reduced
hours or any other form of flexibility’. Female in senior academic role
‘We have a 0.5 Assistant Dean. This works OK. Our thinking is that it has to be full-time
but this example proves that it doesn’t have to be. I believe very strongly in flexibility and
that it can be done’. Female in senior HR role
In what way do you think senior departmental academic jobs could be made more
To what extent to you agree with the views expressed above about the possibility of jobsharing senior academic posts or do these jobs on reduced hours?
Oxford Learning Institute
University of Oxford
The use of mentors
Many men and women find having a formal or informal mentor an important helping
factor with their career progression. However, it appears that there are some differences
in the way men and women describes what they found most valuable about the
mentoring relationship. Women tended to concentrate on the ways in which their
mentors had helped them build their internal confidence and help them to do things for
themselves. While men’s answers were more instrumental and they offered specific
examples where mentors had helped them, for example, to write a book, get onto an
editorial board of an academic journal or successfully apply for a research grant. The
following quotations are a couple of typical examples:
‘ Over the years I have worked with one or two mangers who have been inspirational.
One in particular was very good at persuading you that you could do things that you did
not think you were capable of doing’ Female in middle management role
‘When I was doing post doctoral research, the professor I worked with at university X
was a wonderful friend and mentor. I am still in contact with him and we do research
together. He has been inspirational and he has recommended me to others, helped me
to get on journal editorial boards or committees – I suppose patronage’ Men in middle
management role
The literature on mentoring roles has identified three main types of mentoring roles (De
Vries and Webb 2006):
Psychological support ( e.g. acceptance, confirmation, counselling, friendship)
Instrumental/career support (e.g. sponsorship, exposure and visibility, coaching,
protection, challenging assignments)
Role modelling (e.g. appropriate attitudes, values and behaviours)
In their study on mentors De Vries and Webb found ‘no apparent difference in the
emphasis on psychological support between male and females mentors’. However, they
found that male mentors tended to note ‘more instrumental benefits to the mentee’
although this might be due to the fact that male mentors in their sample overall occupied
more senior positions than female mentors.
Do you think that departments could have a role in providing mentoring? If you do what
do you think the role of mentoring should be in the department (e.g. instrumental,
psychological etc.)?
De Vries, J., Webb, C. and Eveline, J. (2006) “Mentoring for gender equality and
organisational change”, Employee Relations, Vol.28 No.6, pp.553-572