New report: Is academic excellence a gender neutral concept?

Academic excellence seems to be a universal and gender neutral standard that is the base of the principle of meritocracy in science. However previous studies have already exposed this principle as myth and see in it a central mechanism how gender inequality is reproduced in academia.

With this report FESTA wants to examine how academic excellence is constructed at the micro-level in the universities and research organizations – that is in appointment processes for professorships.

The report “PERCEPTIONS OF EXCELLENCE IN HIRING PROCESSES - Results of mapping of the present situation in Bulgaria, Germany, Ireland, Italy, and Turkey” can be downloaded below.

The authors have conducted interviews at their universities/Research organizations with researchers and human resource managers who had served in the function of committee members in appointment processes for professorships as well as interviews with successful and unsuccessful candidates. They investigated how committee members operationalize the construct “excellence” in the criteria they apply in the evaluation of the candidates and how gender bias is intertwined in these criteria of excellence.

In all five countries the authors discovered that excellence itself is a gendered concept, therefore awareness of gender bias (unconscious bias) is very important for committee members, such awareness might include homosociability and local logics.

Highlights from the report:

The “best candidate” in hiring processes at universities and research institutions is characterized by a number of skills and traits that go far beyond the candidate’s scientific achievements. The judgment of what an excellence achievement is remains to a certain extent subjective and has to be made “visible” by social skills such as communication skills, self-presentation skills, and networking skills. Furthermore, it depends on the demands of the hiring institutions, on what is needed in the specific context of the hiring organization and a certain “suitability” of the candidate.

Furthermore, while scientific achievements are subject to specific evaluation procedures throughout the scientific community, these procedures are far from objective. In our country comparisons, we found that factors such as the care ceiling, gender and class privileges also influence the perception of suitability, yet these are largely unacknowledged in hiring processes.

These findings suggest that greater transparency in hiring processes is necessary to make such processes more objective. They also have implications for the development of a gender-sensitive conception of excellence.


Manuela Aye, Deputy Head of Integration Team – Human Resources, Gender and Diversity Management, RWTH Aachen University, Germany. E-Mail:

The report amends findings of the other FESTA report that deals with “Excellence and Gender in the working environment” of scientists. (can be downloaded here)

application/pdf icon
FESTA_5 1_final_report.pdf


No comments for now.