Feathers in the nest: establishing a supportive environment for women researchers

This paper discusses research examining the attitudes and behaviours of researching women in academia and considers the effect of these factors on successful researching outcomes. The results of this exploratory research highlight in particular, a number of interesting environmental influencers which contribute to enhancing successful work outcomes for academic women researchers. Specifically, personal factors such as, marital status, partner support, age, cultural background and level of organization (in life) coupled with, research defined factors such as incentive for conducting the research and the existence of research partnerships and/or groups are identified as significant performance influencers. These dimensions appear to facilitate the level of research productivity for women academics based on key performance indicators such as journal/conference paper submissions and successful research funding applications. The potential benefits of this exploratory research are that any correlation between specific self-supporting attitudes or behaviours of successful women academics and effective research outcomes could provide important clues to both emerging and continuing researchers for career development and promotion.
Much of the current research on women in research focuses upon highlighting or measuring barriers to academic success. Past explanations for the lower productivity of female researchers, compared with their male counterparts, include factors such as the multiple roles adopted by women (mother, partner, friend, care-giver, colleague, academic), gender stereotyping, and what as been regarded as ‘toxic atmospheres’ for work which are exacerbated by gender biasing issues such as inequality in pay rates, promotional opportunities, non-flexible workloads (Stark-Adamec et al., 1993; Wilson, 2001, 2004; Fodor, 2005). Further research has investigated some of the sacrifices made by women academics, for example, forgoing or postponing having children in order to sustain a successful academic career (Williams, 2001; Wilson, 2003). In response to this body of literature, this paper adopted a counter perspective on the climate for women academics by highlighting the positive influences for women in these roles. Specifically, this research seeks to explore the nature of the relationship between research success (measured through research publications and successful research grant applications) and specific techniques to achieve this success. The answers to these questions could provide valuable information to women academics at all levels and foster enhanced performance for women employed within academia.

Article originally published in he Australian Educational Researcher, V.36(2009), n. 1. Reprinted with permission.

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