Virginia Valian

“Gender inequity: what is it, why does it continue, what can we do about it?”

Women and men have different trajectories in academia – and in the professions more generally.  Overall, men advance faster than women. I use two interlocking concepts to explain the gender differences – gender schemas and the accumulation of advantage. Gender schemas are a type of cognitive schema; schemas are mental constructs that help us move through the world efficiently. In the case of gender, our schemas are often correct but also lead to errors in how we evaluate people’s professional competence. In brief, both men and women are likely to overrate men and underrate women. Often, the differences are small and subtle, such as ignoring a woman at a meeting. That is where the notion of the accumulation of advantage comes in. Success develops through accumulating small successes, such as examples of acknowledgment and recognition. They build in each other and compound over time, like interest on an investment. To create a fair society, we need policies and norms that will allow us to judge everyone impartially; I will discuss some examples. To create academic excellence, we need an environment that recognizes and respects merit, whether it speaks with a loud or soft voice.

Virginia Valian is Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Hunter College – CUNY, and is a member of the doctoral faculties of Psychology, Linguistics, and Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences at the CUNY Graduate Center. She directs the Language Acquisition Research Center at Hunter College, which studies the acquisition of syntax in young children and the relation between bilingualism and cognition in adults. She is co-founder and director of Hunter’s Gender Equity Project.

In her work on gender equity Dr Valian performs research on the reasons behind women’s slow advancement in the professions and proposes remedies for individuals and institutions. She is the author of Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women (1998, MIT Press) and is co-author, with Abigail Stewart, of An Inclusive Academy: Achieving Diversity and Excellence (2018, MIT Press). Dr Valian’s recent work on gender includes an opinion piece on sexual harassment (Nature, 2019), a co-authored policy article on gender in science (Science, 2019), and co-authored empirical papers on the gender of speakers at university colloquia, awards to men and women in academia, and reactions to male and female presidential candidates. Dr Valian speaks to institutions and organizations in Australia, Canada, Europe, the United Kingdom, and the United States on improving gender equity in hiring, promotion, and recognition.