Research: Pandemic Threatens To Widen Pre-Existing Academia Inequities

Dr. Kristy Lewis

New research argues the pandemic will widen pre-existing inequities in the academic community if preventative measures aren’t taken.

The 17 authors of “In the wake of COVID-19, academia needs new solutions to ensure gender equity,” published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, say it’s not enough to provide a one-size-fits-all solution to relaxing tenure and promotion standards because of remote work disruptions. While all faculty experienced unexpected shifts in responsibility — whether it was helping their children with schoolwork or eldercare — the weight of the responsibilities falls disproportionately on women, the authors write.

“COVID-19’s effects are driving more of a wedge between women and men in academia in terms of research opportunities,” the paper states.

One of the authors, Biology Assistant Professor Kristy A. Lewis, Ph.D., said women are already playing catch-up, and a setback today would have a ripple effect that extends far into the future.

“It’s already impacted productivity and will continue on for years,” Lewis said. “This is a great opportunity for UCF to be proactive about equity, consider the impacts and give faculty a voice.”

Some of the fallout is already visible. For instance, scientific journals are reporting an increase in manuscript submissions by men, and a drop in submissions by women. There is also concern that cost-cutting measures like reducing or withdrawing institutional retirement contributions will disproportionately affect women and minorities.

The paper calls attention to the issue, but more importantly it presents solutions. One idea is to create a short video that helps leaders recognize their implicit biases — similar to what panelists for the National Science Foundation watch before reviewing publications.

Future tenure and promotion committees evaluating research output during the pandemic should ask nuanced, detailed questions that take into account the individual’s background. For example, black and Latino communities are among those groups hardest hit by the COVID-19 illness and their disruptions might not be equal to their colleagues’. The article makes a point to note that while the focus in on women in academia (because there was more data), all minority groups will benefit from proactive and thoughtful measures to ensure equity.

“This has been a disruptive time for everyone. We see this as an opportunity and a springboard to broaden the conversation on equity,” Lewis said. See the supplemental website that expands the conversation here:



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