New Trends, Old Asymmetries. Gender Implications for the Emerging Generation of Researchers in Italy

Friday, 3 July 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
TW1.2.03 (Tower One)
Rossella Bozzon, University of Trento, Department of Sociology and Social Research, Trento, Italy
Annalisa Murgia, University of Trento, Department of Sociology and Social Research, Trento, Italy
Barbara Poggio, University of Trento, Department of Sociology and Social Research, Trento, Italy
Over the last ten years, the Italian academic system has been characterized by three main dynamics which have significantly reduced the chances of pursuing a scientific career for the new generation of researchers: (i) the flexibilisation of early-stage research positions; (ii) substantial and constant cuts in public research funding; (iii) the steady increase in the number of PhD-holders. The combination of these dynamics has led to a large increase in fixed-term researchers. In 2013 non-permanent positions accounted for more than one-third of the total academic research staff, and they were all concentrated among the new generation of researchers. It has been estimated that in the decade 2004-2013, only 6.7% of those with a temporary research position at a university succeeded in obtaining a permanent post. Despite these substantial changes, the gender gap among the various academic positions seems instead to be stable over time. While there is an equal distribution by sex among PhD candidates and post-docs, women continue to be underrepresented among the next higher positions on the career ladder.

In this paper we will discuss the first results of the GARCIA project – Gendering the Academy and Research: combating Career Instability and Asymmetries, financed by the FP7 Programme of the European Commission. The project, with a three-year duration (2014-2017), involves seven European countries (Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, The Netherlands, Iceland, Slovenia) and focuses on the early phases of the academic career, in which the presence of temporary positions, not included in tenure track paths, has enormously increased in recent decades. Adopting both a quantitative and a qualitative approach, we will analyse a case study conducted in a medium-sized university located in the north-east of Italy.

From a quantitative point of view, we will disentangle whether and how the above-mentioned aggregate trends in gender gaps vary between STEM and SSH disciplines, and how the early stages of scientific careers in different fields of study differ between men and women according to their individual and family characteristics.

The qualitative analysis will be based on forty in-depth interviews conducted at the Departments of Information Engineering and Computer Science and of Sociology and Social Research. The interviews involved both male and female post-docs and temporary researchers currently working in the two departments, and PhD holders who worked with temporary positions in these academic contexts in the past, but who are now continuing their careers elsewhere, in academia or in other fields.

In the conclusion we discuss the implications of the recent changes in the academic system, from a gender perspective, highlighting how the current processes not only do not help to overcome the inequalities of the past but rather contribute to producing new ones. The demand for greater flexibility and availability, the acceleration of work rhythms, increasing instability, and reduced career prospects have in fact different implications for male and female researchers.