Would you ask a male academic the same question?

Discusses the expectations of service-oriented behaviour by female academics


Over the years I have received many thousands of emails asking for my help or assistance in some way. If I can, I usually do help. However, there are three things that have always struck me in this process, the first two of which have been the topic of previous blogposts.

  • First, why do so few academics bother to thank others for responding to their requests?
  • Second, why do some academics seem to display a lack of politeness and consideration?
  • Third, and the topic of this blog: would people expect me to help or assist them if I wasn’t female?

Baffled: even famous female academics experience the same

At the last EURAM meeting I had the chance to exchange views with a number of senior female academics, one of which was an academic I have always admired. She is one of the most successful female academics in Management; think dozens of triple-A publications and 50,000+ Google Scholar citations.

We got talking about expectations of service behaviour from female academics. I was baffled to hear that her experience mirrored mine. Her most recent experience was chairing a nomination process for a particular Fellowship. After sending an email to the current Fellows, she received numerous responses (all from male academics) asking for help with the IT aspects of the job, even asking her to put their nominations into the system for them.

Can you imagine academics asking Michael Hitt, Donald Hambrick or Andrew van der Ven – all similar in academic age and research profile to this female academic – to do these menial jobs for them? Thought not… So why don’t these male academics feel the same reserve about asking a female academic? Is her time less valuable than theirs?

If the job is secretarial, ask your secretary…

If the job is secretarial, ask your secretary. If the job is related to your computer, ask your IT support. If you don’t have a secretary or IT support person, do what everyone in under-resourced universities does, do it yourself! If you are truly unable to perform the task yourself, just ask a close colleague or one of your PhD students, offering profuse thank-yous and a coffee in return. Do not expect a female academic to help you just because she can.


Would I ask a man of the same level of seniority the same?

So please, whenever you are going to ask a female academic to help you, especially - but not only - if you are male, first think: would I ask a man at the same level of seniority the same? If the answer is no, just don’t ask! You might tell me: “I just asked this female academic because she is always so nice to people.” But surely being nice to people shouldn’t result in getting even more work? Try to just be grateful that she is nice, not all academics are :-).

Further reading

If you enjoyed this blog, you might also enjoy reading:

  • Academic men explain things to me, a blog about mansplaining in academia, hilarious and sad in equal measure. No longer seems to accept new postings, but there are 74 pages of posts to "enjoy".
  • Huff, A. (1990). Wives of the Organization, Anne Huff's insightful paper on how many academic women (and some men) take on the role of "wives of the organization". The role involves taking on many academic activities that, although essential to the smooth functioning of a university, are rarely rewarded or even consciously noticed, much like cooking the daily family dinner. Although written 30 years ago, it has lost none of its relevance.
  • Additional readings can be found on CYGNA's Readings and inspirations page.

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