Opinion: In the wake of COVID-19, academia needs new solutions to ensure gender equity

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Article at PNAS by Jessica L. Malisch, Breanna N. Harris, Shanen M. Sherrer, Kristy A. Lewis, Stephanie L. Shepherd, Pumtiwitt C. McCarthy, Jessica L. Spott, Elizabeth P. Karam, Naima Moustaid-Moussa, Jessica McCrory Calarco, Latha Ramalingam, Amelia E. Talley, Jaclyn E. Cañas-Carrell, Karin Ardon-Dryer, Dana A. Weiser, Ximena E. Bernal, and Jennifer Deitloff.


The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has upended almost every facet of academia (1). Almost overnight the system faced a sudden transition to remote teaching and learning, changes in grading systems, and the loss of access to research resources. Additionally, shifts in household labor, childcare, eldercare, and physical confinement have increased students’ and faculty’s mental health needs and reduced the time available to perform academic work. A pandemic naturally highlights privileges, such as financial security and access to mental health care. It also amplifies the mental, physical, social, and economic impacts attributable to preexisting inequities in academia. Making matters worse, in times of stress, such as pandemics, biased decision-making processes are favored (2), which threaten to deprioritize equity initiatives.

All this means that even among those with privileged positions, including many academics, women will likely bear a greater burden of this pandemic. The burden will be even heavier for women who face intersecting systems of oppression, such as ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, gender, age, economic class, dependent status, and/or ability. Thus, academia will need to enact solutions to retain and promote women faculty who already face disparities regarding merit, tenure, and promotion (3).

Here, we examine ways in which COVID-19 is amplifying known barriers to women’s career advancement. We propose actionable solutions, which include the formation of a Pandemic Response Faculty Fellow or Pandemic Faculty Merit Committee (PFMC), new/revised tenure and promotion metrics created by the aforementioned committee, and a framework to ensure that the new metrics and policies are adopted college-wide. We also caution against the popular tenure clock quick fix that poses a potential threat to a diverse future for academia.

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