Exploring gender and power in academia: gate-keepers in research funding in focus
By Liisa Husu
Paper presented in the Nordic conference Könsmakt i Norden
University of Oslo, June 12 and 13, 2003. The Workshop 'Har vi kjønn i akademia?'
Women’s position and gender inequalities in academia have been on research and policy agendas for several decades in the Nordic countries (see, for example Ministry of Education, Finland 1982 and SOU 1983:4) and in Europe increasingly so since the latter half of the 1990s (ETAN 2000). Sandra Harding and Elizabeth McGregor noted in the UNESCO World Science Report in 1995 a conceptual shift in this research from the earlier focus on "women as a problem" (their identities, motivation or individual characteristics) towards problematising academia, its structures and practices. They argued that a conceptual shift from a deficiency model of girls and women to a deficiency model of science and science education is increasingly widely regarded as crucial to reach equitable treatment of women in sciences and take advantage of women’s potential in science and technology (1995, 16). Building on this second phase of conceptualisation, my current on-going study Gender, Gate-keeping and Research Funding: Organizational and Individual Policies and Practices
focuses on one key academic arena -- research funding -- and one key institutional process -- gate-keeping. It analyses both organizational
and individual gate-keepers
and their policies
. The location of the study is Finland that can be seen as an interesting "laboratory" to study gender in academia, with one of the highest levels of R&D investment globally and in the Nordic arena, relatively high proportions of women engaged in research activities (also compared to other Nordic countries), and explicit governmental commitment to gender equality policies, a feature shared with other Nordic countries (see, for example Science and Technology in Finland 2000; Eurostat 2001; Bergqvist 1999).
By gate-keepers I mean here both (a) fund awarding organisations
as collective gate-keepers of research funding and (b) individuals
who are involved in decision-making bodies of such key fund awarding organisations. Internationally, as well as in Finland, research funding is of growing importance in academic life. This is because of both trends towards increasing competitive and external funding of university research and greater use of the level and source of research funding as a measure of evaluation of academic activity and even sometimes quality (see, for example, Hakala et al. 2003, Academy of Finland 2000c). In Finland, external funding of university research increased in the 1990s from a third to a half of their total research funding, the largest funding sources being the Academy of Finland and Tekes, National Technology Agency of Finland (Hakala et al. 2003, 43). In their recent comprehensive analysis of changes in Finnish university research in the 1990s, Johanna Hakala and her colleagues concluded that Finnish universities have developed more distinctively towards "research universities" (2003, 47).
The concept of gate-keeping was introduced into social sciences by Kurt Lewin (1943). It has been applied to study various social arenas, recently, for example, professions (Ishida et al. 2002), allocation of services such as education (Enders 2001) and health care (Stevens et al. 2000), employment of immigrants (Paananen 1999) and media and publishing (Clayman 1989). Gate-keeping processes can control or influence the entry or access to that particular arena, allocation of resources, information flows, setting of standards, development of the field and the agenda, or the external image of that arena. Gate-keeping can function as exclusion and control, on the one hand, and inclusion and facilitation, on the other. Gate-keeping may be used by some individuals or groups in gate-keeping positions to promote their own or their reference group interests and to exclude or hold back certain groups (as in, for example, nepotism, favouritism).
In relation to science and academia, gate-keeping as a concept was first used only to refer to scientific publishing, and editors of scientific journals were characterised as "gatekeepers of science" (de Grazia 1963 and Crane 1967). Robert K. Merton argued this usage to be too restrictive (1973, 521) and that gate-keepers also regulate scientific "manpower" and allocation of resources for research. He characterised the gate-keeper role as the "fourth major role" or function of scientists, in addition to those of researcher, teacher and administrator. Gate-keeping is, according to Merton, "basic to the systems of evaluation and the allocation of roles and resources in science" (p. 521), and "affects contemporary science in its every aspect" (p. 523). Gate-keepers evaluate "the promise and limitations of aspirants to new positions, thus affecting the mobility of individual scientists and, in the aggregate, the distribution of personnel throughout the system" (p. 523). Gate-keeping operates through both hierarchies and panels of peers, at every level in science, and in various arenas (publishing, scientific societies, appointments to academic posts, grading of students, allocation of funding etc.). Gate-keeping is a matter of both the process
of decision-making and the content
of decision-making, thus affecting the differential development and direction of academic fields, favouring some research questions and disfavouring some others. In this sense, gate-keeping in research funding is fundamental to the construction of scientific knowledge.
1.2. Gender perspectives on gate-keeping in academia
Persistent gender divisions in science and academia, the most striking being women’s continuing under-representation in research, is a global phenomenon that has become an issue of growing concern in science policy nationally and internationally (see Harding and McGregor 1995, ETAN 2000, Rees 2002). This under-representation continues despite the great gains women have made as recipients of university education, and the rapid growth of women among recipients of the highest academic degrees, and despite gender equality legislation and gender equality policies of universities and many funding organisations (see, for example, Fogelberg et al. 1999).
The issue of gate-keeping is pivotal here in several ways. Women are particularly under-represented among the academic gate-keepers and in leading positions in science and science policy organisations (Stolte-Heiskanen et al. 1991, Academy of Finland 1997, 2000a, Fogelberg et al. 1999). According to a comprehensive EU report on women in science, gate-keepers of research funding in Europe consist to a large extent of middle-age male academics (ETAN 2000). This is also the case in Finland even though women’s proportion among full professors in Finland is internationally among the highest, and highest in the EU as well as in the Nordic countries (21 % in 2002). The National Research Councils in Finland have nearly reached gender balance, as their members are Government-appointed and their composition has to follow the quota paragraph of the Gender Equality Act since 1995. However, the same does not apply to the experts used by the Research Councils: in 1999, of the referees used by the Academy of Finland only 16 % were women. The situation in the private research funding foundations is not affected by the quota paragraph. Only 14 % of the members in the boards of largest Finnish research funding foundations were women in 1999 (Academy of Finland 2000a).
Only scarce and scattered information exists on the recruitment practices to gate-keeping positions in research funding. The EU ETAN report on women in science argues that "the process whereby individuals are appointed to such panels [research funding bodies, editorial boards of journals -LH] is not always transparent or democratic: rather names emerge from existing members. Panels tend to reproduce panels in their own likeness" (2000, 44). The report also urges the funding bodies to address the issue of lack of transparency and regular scrutiny in their peer review system. In general, academic gate-keeping or gate-keepers have not been studied in Finland, and internationally, most such research tends to focus on academic publishing. One of the few studies with a broader agenda is the ongoing large Power and Democracy Study (1998-2003) initiated by the Norwegian Government, which includes a sub project on Gender and Power in Academia http://www.sv.uio.no/mutr/eng/
, one organiser of this conference. The study also includes a study of leaders in ten social arenas, among them "research and higher education", gender equality being one perspective. Similar studies have not been conducted in Finland. In general, social scientists tend to study elites and decision-makers much less than those without influence, partly because the former are often difficult to identify, may be inaccessible and much less open to being the subject of scrutiny (Odendahl & Shaw 2002, 299).
Gendered divisions can be found not only in the composition of the decision-making bodies of gate-keeping organisations in research funding. Women are under-represented as applicants and recipients of research funding (Academy of Finland 1997, 2000a, ETAN 2000). International research has pointed out that seemingly gender-neutral eligibility criteria
may have gendered outcomes. Contradictory results have been obtained on gender bias in funding decisions (Wennerås and Wold 1997, Blake and LaValle 2000, ETAN 2000). Extensive studies on gender and research funding have been conducted in Sweden (SOU 1996, 276-277) and UK (Blake and LaValle 2000) but without specifically focusing on the gate-keepers. The Swedish study concluded that female academics obtained on average less than half the amount of grants that men did, if age and position were taken into account. The extensive UK Blake and LaValle study of funding application behaviour among UK academics (2000) showed a difference between women’s and men’s application activity but also concluded that if women applied they were as successful as their male colleagues. However, women were less likely than men to be eligible
to apply for certain grants: for example, some of the grant schemes were not open to certain groups with high proportion of women, such as lower grade or fixed-term academic staff. In Finland, no similar systematic studies have been conducted on research funding by gender, rank and tenure. Few Finnish funding agencies volunteer to provide information on funding by gender. The exception here is the Academy of Finland that has systematically aimed to develop its gender monitoring from the late 1990s and has introduced an action plan for gender equality for 2000-2003 (Academy of Finland 1997, 2000a, b and c). Another funding agency which is particularly interesting in this context in Finland is the small Women’s Science Foundation, Naisten Tiedesäätiö, having an explicit gender equality agenda and allocating funding only to female researchers.
My doctoral thesis, Sexism, Support and Survival in Academia. Academic Women and Hidden Discrimination in Finland
(2001), addressed the production, reproduction and challenging of gender inequalities in academia across disciplines, using qualitative methodology and a gendered organisational approach. Finnish academic women continue to experience various forms of gender discrimination and sexism in academia. Furthermore, these experiences are not restricted into any specific career phase (pre- or postdoctoral, for example) or certain disciplinary fields or arenas of academic activities. Gendered problems related to research funding encountered by the informants were linked to many issues, such as the mismatch of parental leave with the funding systems, "academic" vs. "biological age", non-transparent practices in recruitment to research projects or graduate schools, lack of support and encouragement, research group dynamics, as well as sometimes overt gender bias in evaluation.
2. Objectives and methods
The overall objective of my Gatekeeper study is to increase knowledge and understanding of the dynamics of gate-keeping in one crucial academic arena, research funding. It analyses how gender is involved in these processes in an era where recruitment and allocation of resources are seemingly made on gender-neutral principles, and how gender is interconnected with other social divisions such as age. For example, the Academy of Finland’s current promotion of "young" researchers and "female researchers" may raise contradictions. Furthermore, the project explores how gate-keepers approach gender inequalities in science and how do they explain and understand the discrepancy between seemingly gender-neutral systems and gendered outcomes.
Although gate-keeping in academia occurs in various arenas, and little research exists on gate-keeping in most of these, there are several reasons to focus research specifically on gate-keeping in research funding. First, gate-keeping in research funding is a relatively clear and coherent field of study - as well as amenable to quantifiable output measures in terms of academic personnel, finance and publications. Second, gate-keeping organisations and individuals have a pivotal role forming future research and recruiting future research labour force. They are in a key position in influencing what kind of research is supported and encouraged, or marginalised and discouraged and what kind of eligibility criteria are introduced and how these criteria are applied. The dual role of gate-keeping - that it both facilitates and controls/excludes is of interest here, in keeping with a view of power that is both oppressive and productive.
2.2. Theoretical framework and methodology
The theoretical framework is interdisciplinary, drawing from studies on gender and organisations, women’s studies, science studies, higher education studies, and studies on professional ethics. Other relevant literatures are research on recruitment, decision-making, elites, experts, and women in management.
Gate-keeping can be analysed as "practical", day-to-day mundane ways in which social hierarchies, social divisions, and persistent distinctions are produced, reproduced, and sometimes challenged, ameliorated and changed. Gate-keeping processes apply across a very wide range of social arenas (from micro to macro) and in a wide range of forms of social hierarchies and social divisions, such as gender divisions. Women’s historical
exclusion from various professions, from education and training, and from several formal and informal organizations and social arenas can be understood as a result of a range of gendered gate-keeping processes. This historical exclusion has mainly occurred in contexts where the gate-keepers have been exclusively or predominantly men.
Joan Acker’s analysis of gendered dynamics and processes in organizations has been applied as initial theoretical framework, exploring gendered divisions, gendered symbols, gendered interaction and individuals’ internal mental processing of these (1992). Gendered practices and policies of gate-keeping
in research funding are explored by studying gate-keeping organisations
, on the one hand, and individuals in gate-keeping positions
, on the other hand. Individual gate-keepers include both senior academics and officials and governmental and business representatives. Gate-keeping policies
mainly refer to policies of gate-keeping funding organisations, and gate-keeping practices
to activities of both organisations and individual gate-keepers. When exploring gate-keeping policies the analysis focuses on the rules and regulations concerning the recruitment of gate-keepers (including referees), the construction of the criteria (eligibility) on which funding is allocated to the applicants, and on explicit published policies and statements overtly or covertly related to gender (for example, policies related to parental leave or encouraging especially women to apply for grants, age limits). When exploring gate-keeping practices, the analysis focuses on the recruitment of the gate-keepers in practice (how the recruitment rules are applied in practice, gender composition of the referee pool), the applications and allocation of funding to applicants in practice (applications and allocations by gender), potential activities promoting gender equality, and potential gender-related experiences of gate-keeping practices as expressed by the applicants and recipients of funding. The main research questions are:
· How are the gate-keepers in research funding recruited and how are these recruitment policies and practices related to gender?
· How do gender issues operate in the policies of gate-keeping organisations of research funding?
· How do gender issues operate in the practices of gate-keeping organisations of research funding and the practices of gate-keeping individuals?
· What are the interconnections between these policies and practices?
· How are gender issues in gate-keeping related to other relevant social divisions, such as age, ethnicity, and class?
· How do gate-keepers themselves construct gender equality and explain inequalities in science and academia?
The study uses mainly qualitative methods, but also reanalyses existing quantitative data on research funding by gender if available. In addition to existing data on gate-keeping in my doctoral thesis (Husu 2001), three methods are used for gathering data:
are conducted with a sample of gate-keepers and representatives of research funding organisations (c. 40 individuals) taking into account the different funding structures in major disciplinary fields. Public funding is most important funding source for humanities and social sciences whereas natural sciences, technology and medicine have a broader funding base (for example, Academy of Finland 2000c, Hakala et al. 2003). Interviewees include current and previous chairs and members of the National Research Councils, chairs and members of the largest grant-giving foundations, representatives of the National Technology agency TEKES, members of the National Council of Science and Technology, and chairs and members of the research funding bodies of universities. The interviews address recruitment practices to the gate-keeper position (both individual and collective), experiences as a gate-keeper in research funding in general, the "gate-keeper career" of the interviewee, their views on the funding system and funding criteria, their experiences and views on gender equality in the activities of the funding agency and, more generally, views on the promotion of gender equality in academic research and the position of women in academia. Themes for analysis.
2) analysis of document material
: a) published/public documents, e.g. policy reports, calls for applications, annual reports, websites b) unpublished data from funding organisations, e.g. concerning referees and refereeing, statistics. The document analysis focuses on explicit policies and practices.
3) analysis of written accounts
on potential gender-related experiences of research funding as applicants and recipients. The written accounts from applicants and recipients of research funding are collected by publishing a request to write confidentially on potential gender-related experiences in research funding.
These three methods of collecting data complement each other and provide an opportunity to juxtapose the views and experiences of the decision-makers with the policies and practices, on the one hand, and with the experiences of those who are the targets of these policies and practices, on the other.
The interviews produce data on both gate-keeping policies (recruitment to gate-keeping positions, formation and views on policies, including evaluation and eligibility criteria) and practices (recruitment to gate-keeping positions in practice, experiences of the gate-keeping function, experiences of application of evaluation and eligibility criteria, views on gender equality and inequalities in allocating research funding). The documents produce data mostly on gate-keeping policies and outcomes of practices. Researchers’ accounts mostly produce information on the practices of research funding. They may highlight specific problems related to gender, but may also produce critical perspectives to gate-keeping policies more generally and/or their implementation in practice. Transcribed interviews, document material and written accounts by researchers will be analysed thematically in relation to the research questions. Different types of data are compared and triangulated to produce multi-faceted interpretations and understandings of the phenomena studied, and explore interconnections of gender and other social divisions (e.g. age, social connections).
3. Gate-keeping and mainstreaming
The recent EU report on national policies on women and science calls for new research that would "throw light on complex and intangible issues, such as the gendering of excellence", "in order to understand more fully the gendering of science and scientific careers, and to assess policies designed to open up science and scientific careers to women, in order to inform appropriate and effective policy making and review" (Rees 2002, 23). The ongoing study seeks to increase understanding of gate-keeping dynamics in research funding and its gendered aspects and their relations to other relevant social divisions. Furthermore, it also aims to produce new knowledge on the conditions of and potential resistance against gender equality policies in academia, and especially on the complex interplay between more or less explicit gender equality policies, and actual practices and gendered outcomes. A gender sensitive gate-keeping approach is not relevant only when analysing research funding in academia; a similar approach could be applied to study gate-keeping processes on other academic arenas, such as recruitment and promotion in universities, activities of scientific societies and awarding scientific prizes and awards. The approach is applicable also outside
academia, e.g. when exploring gender dynamics, conditions and implementation of gender mainstreaming in government, business or the arts. For example, the Finnish Ministry of Labour has shown interest in the gate-keeper perspective in relation to managing and encouraging gender equality projects funded by the European Structural Funds.
In European science policy, mainstreaming gender equality in scientific organisations is currently seen not only as an important goal which would increase individual female researchers’ opportunities to use their potential. It is also seen more generally as a way to promote excellence in scientific research (ETAN 2000, EC 2001). Promoting gender equality is increasingly seen as quality assurance ("equality equals quality"). A critical analysis of the dynamics of gate-keeping in research funding and its gendered aspects in the Finnish context can inform science policy generally and the policies and practices of funding organisations towards greater gender awareness and fairness.
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