The field of international relations has long been dominated by men, with an overwhelmingly large number of men as noted names and professors compared to women. However, the gap between women and men in international relations only became clear to me once I began taking more courses in the IR field for my major in International Politics.
According to a study in 2007, only 26% of professors in international relations are women, a fact which lines up with my experience of only ever having one female professor out of the seven IR classes I’ve taken. Participation in these classes remains largely male-dominated despite the equal numbers of male and female students, bringing up the question of how these ratios evolve from being almost equal during schooling to incredibly skewed in the professional world. This leads us to the ultimate question: how can we address the gender gap and inspire a new generation of female international relations scholars?
To answer the question of how ratios become so skewed in the professional world, we first have to examine the educational environment. While the number of women and men in undergraduate international relations courses are relatively equal, these numbers start to differ significantly in graduate classes. In fact, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace recently reported that among those who pursue a PhD at Harvard, 5% of male students are in International Relations, while only 2% of women are pursuing a PhD in IR.
This decrease of women in higher degrees of education can be attributed to a number of factors, but the one that resonates most with my experience is the professor bias that affects the performance of many female students. This prejudice causes male professors to favor male voices over their female counterparts, thus discouraging women from participating.
While this lack of female participation not only damages their ability to get a good grade – seeing as participation is a hefty percentage of one’s overall grade – it also often creates a culture of women wishing to stay silent and suppress their opinions. By teaching female students that their thoughts are less valuable than their male counterparts, these women are set on a path of sitting silently in the classroom as well as the workplace. According to Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “women are significantly underrepresented on the list of the 400 most frequently-cited political scientists and are cited less often than their male colleagues.” Because they are less vocal about their work in the field of IR, women are often pushed to the side in favor of their male counterparts.
One way to address this growing issue and counter the gender imbalance is to hire more female professors in International Relations. In addition to creating a more open space for women in classroom discussions, studies have shown that female professors are more likely to bring up new topics often overlooked by male professors in the field of IR research. According to studies conducted by researchers at UC Santa Barbara and College of William & Mary, women touch upon a variety of topics such as “transnational actors, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations, while men are more likely to study U.S. foreign policy and international security” (Malianiak et. al). By including more female professors, women are given a more level playing field as they progress in their education while IR students simultaneously benefit from a broader understanding of International Relations.
The Women’s Network’s emphasis on empowering young collegiate women and creating those connections is key in inspiring women to become more confident and express their ideas. By developing bonds with women already in the workforce, students can foster a supportive environment for uplifting the voices of female international relations scholars. Furthermore, hiring more female IR professors will enable universities to bring in fresh perspectives and encourage female students to engage in class discussions without fear of being ignored or talked over.
Ultimately, the lack of women in international relations needs to be addressed from the bottom up, starting at the undergraduate level. Once young women are able to learn in an environment conducive to engagement, then we will see many more women in the field of IR.