Clinical Law Prof Blog

Editor: Jeffrey R. Baker
Pepperdine University
School of Law

Monday, April 21, 2014

Do Women Professors Underperform?

“April is the cruellest month,” wrote T.S. Eliot, and he was not even a woman.  This April has witnessed an especially heavy torrent of conflicting statistics, studies, articles, and posts on how to be a successful woman.  As with parenting, everyone seems to be an expert.  Not even women in the academy—the highest concentration of experts in the world—are spared.

Following the signing of President Obama’s executive orders highlighting that women in the U.S. continue to be paid just 77 cents for every dollar made by men (, The Chronicle of Higher Education published a blog post arguing that the gender pay gap for men and women of equal rank at doctoral universities is far more narrow:  90 percent, 93 percent, 91 percent, 88 percent, and 96 percent, for full professors, associate professors, assistant professors, lecturers, and instructors, respectively (  Overall, however, academic women are paid an average of 78 cents on the dollar.  How could that be? 

The problem is representation.  According to the analysis in The Chronicle, men outnumber women 3-to-1 at the full professor level, while women outnumber men 3-to-1 at the instructor level.  The overrepresentation of women at lower ranks in the academy and underrepresentation of women in the higher ranks skews overall earnings of academics in an almost identical disparity as the national economy (

Where do these disparities in representation come from?  On the one hand, a recent article in The Atlantic reminds us that women today earn more college and graduate degrees than men do, so the issue isn’t competence (  Instead, The Atlantic article blames the skewing at least partially on findings that men are more confident than women, and that women’s lower self-confidence holds women back professionally. 

However, just last month another article, this one in The New York Times, warned that women who are overly confident may alienate others because they are not “sufficiently feminine,” and cited the story of an academic who was offered a position as a philosophy professor, but the offer was subsequently rescinded after she tried to negotiate a list of “nice-to-have” items that would “make [her] decision easier” (  Apparently, we have to be more confident, but not too confident. 

“We are asking women to juggle while they are on a tightrope,” according to Professor Linda Babcock, founder of the gender equity program at Carnegie Mellon University.  “The research could not be more clear in that we tolerate more aggressive or assertive behavior by men more than women.” 

Professor Kelly Ward, who holds a chair in the College of Education at Washington State University and researches academic leadership, attributes the disparities in representation not just to discriminatory workplace practices, but also to women’s parenting choices and their focus on teaching and service over scholarship, which in turn can lead to being passed over for promotion to full professor.  These “choices,” which alternatively or additionally could be framed as biological imperatives coupled with societal expectations, could lead to what The Chronicle identified in 2012 as a gender gap in scholarly publishing ( 

Women comprised just 24.5 percent of scholarly authors in the field of law from 1991 to 2010.  The study concluded overall that “women do not publish scholarly articles at rates equal to their presence in most fields” (  Subsequent studies document that women’s academic articles are cited less frequently than those written primarily by men (, and men are far more likely to cite their own scholarship than women, which, in turn, leads to lower rates of citation for women scholars (

So what does this labyrinthine of research mean for women professors?  Are we less productive scholars than our male colleagues?  Is our scholarship less relevant or lower quality?  Do we suffer from the “Imposter Syndrome”?  Are we paying the “Baby Penalty”?  Are these findings a result of external values, biases, or restraints?  Is it some combination of the above?  Most importantly, now that we know about these disparities, what can we do to ensure that professors of both genders are able to fulfill their potential as scholars?

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Thank you for this post. If you look at the statistics of law professors, the gender distribution of all AALS faculty (tenure and contract) is about 37% women. The statistics for faculty in a discipline that is historically thought of as "lower stature" (the misnamed field of legal writing) is 70.9% women. Is the lower stature to this field attributable to the fact that these women under-perform as law professors or because the legal education hierarchy doesn't value the discipline of a field that was dominated by women from its beginnings? I will answer by pointing out that there definitely two and arguably four peer-reviewed journals devoted to the discipline of legal communication/persuasive writing.

Posted by: Ruth Anne Robbins | Apr 22, 2014 4:57:13 AM

I really enjoyed reading this thoughtful piece! As the gender gap debate continues, I'd like to suggest yet another layer to consider. Universities generally pay higher salaries to professors teaching in male-dominated fields (medicine, law, business, computer sciences, engineering, and physical sciences) than to professors teaching in female-dominated fields (library sciences, education, social work, english/literature.) ( There are obvious market explanations for the disparities, but have those explanations also become an excuse for universities to exacerbate the gender gap by valuing male-dominated fields over female-dominated fields?

Within legal education, this tension between “choice” and “value” seems particularly evident when considering the role and salaries of experiential educators. For example, the most recent ALWD survey ( indicates that the majority of Legal Research and Writing Professors/Lecturers are women (73%). As a profession, they have a lower average salary than their doctrinal counterparts. It seems likely that their decreased access to funding for research assistants and summer stipends might result in decreased scholarly publications, just as their limited participation in faculty governance might limit their ability to self-advocate. Kathryn Stanchi and Jan M. Levine wrote about this issue more than 10 years ago in Gender and Legal Writing: Law School’s Dirty Little Secrets, 16 Berkeley Women’s L.J. 3 (2001), (, but how much has changed?

The C-Sale Survey ( appears to indicate that women are also well-represented in clinical education positions, and that clinical positions also often include less compensation and less access to financial support for scholarship than their doctrinal counterparts. Even if we all agree with the external value placed on scholarship (which I am not conceding), does gender play a role in the accessibility of institutional support for the production of said scholarship?

Posted by: Kelly Behre, WVU College of Law | Apr 22, 2014 12:27:36 PM

These are both very well-informed comments. If part of the problem is external values, do either of you have any ideas for transforming these external values so that (1) the work that is performed predominantly by women is rewarded at the same rate as that performed by men, and (2) women law professors receive comparable support in the form of research assistants and summer stipends so that they can grow as scholars?

Posted by: Warren Binford | Apr 22, 2014 2:26:24 PM

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