A Shift in Academia: “Can Scholarship Be More Feminine?”

A Note from Hope Katz Gibbs, publisher, BeInkandescent Health & Wellness magazine — Say hello to dynamic Dr. M. Gloria González-Morales — a research director in occupational health and positive psychology and co-founder of the Centre for Workers’ Health and Well-Being. Her passion is teaching graduate students, and the native of Spain spent years working as a Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Guelph, Canada.

In January 2020, she moved to sunny Southern California to become a professor in the Psychology Department at Claremont Graduate University (CGU) near Los Angeles. Her research has been funded with scholarships and grants, including a prestigious Fulbright scholarship and funding from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation. And she is the Associate Editor of Work & Stress Journal; her research has been published in some of the world’s top-ranked psychology publications.

I met Gloria in the fall of 2019 when she was introduced to the psychology students at CGU. I had just been accepted into the positive psych program and was eager to explore what life would look like as a grad student — at 55! Immediately, I felt a connection with this smart, funny woman who not only had mastered the world of academia and research but had a fascinating perspective on it. Her goal is to involve the disciplines of occupational health psychology and positive organizational psychology by focusing on stress, work-life issues, victimization, incivility and civility, and positive organizational interventions to enhance well-being and performance.

Immediately, I suggested she be featured in our magazine. As an academic and researcher, Glorida provides a unique perspective on what it means to be a woman in a field long dominated by men. Her essay below focuses on that topic, and I know you’ll find her insights to be thought-provoking.

Click here to watch her webinar: Positive Psychology and Work Stress: When Stressors Make you Grow.

Scroll down for her article, originally published in the journal Academy of Management Learning & Education, 2019, Vol. 18, No. 2, 302–305. And stay tuned for more from Gloria. We look forward to talking more in the months and years to come with this powerhouse.

Can Scholarship Be More Feminine? 

Dr. M. Gloria González-Morales

This article is a commentary on a paper written by my colleague Bill Harley (2019) in a special issue about academic careers. Harley’s paper is a refreshing and provocative piece on senior academics’ role in the crisis of confidence in management studies and how they are setting a bad example. This is a conversation that nobody wants to have.

Not only are we trained and conditioned throughout our graduate education and career to achieve higher academic feats, but we also become accustomed to always expecting excellence and achievement from ourselves and others. No wonder so many people have to stop taking stock after being granted tenure to figure out the next big thing they should be working hard to accomplish.

For more than ten years, we have been working toward goals that are set up externally: Get that predoctoral grant, get your dissertation done, publish your dissertation, get a postdoc or an assistant professor job at a good school, work hard to get tenure (e.g., large grants, A publications). We think that once tenured, we will be happy, everything will fall into place, and some who have been waiting for the right moment will feel that they have permission to have a family or to have time to engage in their private lives.

However, once we get tenure, we realize that achieving those academic goals is not the end, and many of us become restless without a new goal to work hard for.

This leads us to the problem that Harley eloquently describes. In this commentary, I am inspired to add a diversity perspective (specifically gender diversity) to two of the three suggestions drafted by Harley: the rejection of the myth of “the heroic workaholic publishing machine” and the refusal to promote flawed approaches assessing academic success. When we think about these problems and add factors such as gender and sexual diversity, race, ethnicity, or disability, being a management scholar becomes much more challenging. When colleagues and students interact with us, they have prejudices, biases, and expectations based on who we are and how different we look.

In a recent experimental study, El-Alayli, Hansen-Brown, and Ceynar (2018) found that when students identified a fictitious professor as a woman, they expected that this professor would respond positively to requests for special favors or accommodations. This effect was stronger among academically entitled students.

Previous research suggests that in relation to their students, women “must walk a line between warmth and agency” (p.137), and that the extra time and dedication to communal behaviors is not recognized in student evaluations (MacNell, Driscoll, & Hunt, 2015), let alone performance evaluations by administrators. This communal behavior oriented toward relational goals and stereotypically enacted by and expected from women has been labeled relational practice.

The research by El-Alayli and colleagues (2018) is a very specific example of how diversity plays a role on the work of academia, one that can be measured with experiments to check if students actually expect more or less depending on the gender of the professor.

But prejudices, biases, and expectations are not limited to students, nor is it limited to the classroom context. Good examples of this reality in organizational behavior and I-O psychology come from the recently created SIOP Women’s Inclusion Network (Ruland, 2017) and the social media network of Women of OB.

I am a member of both groups. We use these social media fora to discuss and request advice and support when navigating our careers as scholars of diverse backgrounds: What do we do when students challenge our expertise in the classroom just because we do not look like the stereotypical model of an academic expert?

What do we do when students assume we will accommodate their requests because we are supposed to be nurturing and soft? How do we manage the gendered expectations about service and administrative tasks from colleagues and administrators?

Navigating these issues successfully involves the added work of walking a very fine line between gender biases and academic expectations while avoiding backlash from either side.

Emotional labor and relational practice are a big part of the day-to-day of many academics, irrespective of their diversity background; however, this extra workload is gendered. It is related to expectations and biases associated with women and their traditional roles in the private sphere, defined by communal, collectivistic, and collaborative values, but enacted in the public sphere of organizational structures and cultures, defined by values of agency, individualism, and competitiveness.

More frequently than not, we engage in the relational practice, without admitting that this extra work not only will not be rewarded but also will disappear by way of the competitive structures of the academic organization, even more, prominent in business and management schools.

The phenomenon of gendered relational practice in a male-dominated organization was documented in an inspiring ethnographic study by Joyce Fletcher (1998). Fletcher describes how women who are engineers in an IT company develop their work according to a relational feminine belief system: relational practice.

Based on careful observation and discussion with the participants, she describes the work of these engineers as preserving the work projects, mutual empowering, and “achieving and creating a team.” Examples of these relational practices are sacrificing self-interest for the communal good, enacting emotional labor by expressing the adequate emotions of feminine gender roles, and investing time and energy in managing the emotions of others.

The most interesting aspect of Fletcher’s work is the second part that explains how organizational structures and systems make all these relational activities unrecognized; they actually “get disappeared from commonsense definitions of real work” (p. 164). The instances of relational practice recorded by Fletcher are consistently labeled as voluntary, unnecessary, and not really work. Does it ring a bell?

What happens when we think about the time and energy spent in supporting and mentoring students, empowering junior colleagues, creating research collaborations? 

Where is that box in our performance appraisal form? The organizational culture of business and management schools and departments enhances agency and competitive practices associated with traditional values, leaving no room for the recognition and maintenance of relational practices enacted by management scholars, regardless of their gender.

Jennifer Berdahl and colleagues’ research describes masculinity contest cultures (MCC) as those driven by the norms of “show no weakness,” “strength and stamina,” “put work first,” and “dog eats dog” (Berdahl, Cooper, Glick, Livingston, & Williams, 2018).

Of course, I am not suggesting here that academic cultures are as extreme as the MCC described by Berdahl et al. (e.g., IT companies, financial banking), but academic organizations may expose individualistic and competitive cultures that are as problematic. Actually, Harley’s Bad Example 2 of perpetuating the myth of the “heroic workaholic publishing pushing machine” is clearly connected to the norms of “strength and stamina” and the need to “put work first” that we espouse and enact in our profession.

This makes our academic cultures competitive, with no room for the recognition of relational practice.

To change the competitive culture, as one of the problematic aspects of our work environments (Berdahl et al., 2018), we need to make this relational practice visible to be recognized in our academic departments. This would benefit those academics who do the invisible relational work and would help us break free from the crisis of our profession. After having been granted tenure, I needed to navigate a new way of looking at my career.

Goals were not as clearly set by external pressures. Apart from desiring to become a full professor, what else would motivate me to work as hard as I had done pre-tenure?

After thinking during my sabbatical leave and co-organizing a small group meeting to discuss this with fellow scholars around the world (Gonzalez- Morales, Kohler, & Rico, 2017), I found the answer to my existential academic questions.

Strive to make a difference without the tenure pressure. 

This idea is not new, for example, Adam Grant in his 2007 article in Academy of Management Review, defines relational job design as “the relational architecture of jobs that increases the motivation to make a prosocial difference by connecting employees to the impact they are having on the beneficiaries of their work.

Beneficiaries are the people and groups of people whom employees believe their actions at work have the potential to positively affect” (p. 395). One of my colleagues says that our jobs are the best ones because we get to be research entrepreneurs without the associated risks of entrepreneurship (Gill, personal communication, 2014), with a nice academic buffer in case our research ventures don’t work out. The high level of autonomy and job control we have should be used to craft more relational jobs ourselves (Grant, 2007), and we cannot say that this is not possible. In most academic institutions, faculty are involved in the tenure-and-promotion processes to some extent.

If anything, tenure-and-promotion departmental committees can contextualize the information of our colleagues’ CVs to explain to the Dean/Chair why and how their relational work matters. So, we are like entrepreneurs, we can design our jobs, we can do job crafting. Stop to think if you are working to get an A just to get recognition, or if this is a real pressure to maintain your job.

Is there another journal or another type of research that would make a real difference for humans? What is the relational output? Maybe you want to support graduate students, helping them publish with you.

Maybe you thrive by working with a not-for-profit organization, providing them with our expertise and consulting in exchange to access to participants (that one gives you double points if your school values community engagement scholarship or social entrepreneurship).

In sum, what is the path that would help you help others? When I have two competing deadlines, I always chose to work first on the paper/ manuscript/project that would make a proximal difference in a human’s life. Return the thesis proposal draft to your student with constructive feedback, instead of working on that paper with the other superstars in your field that will give you another paper that few people will read. This way, I get to enjoy the small successes of others instead of striving to obtain a big success that I have come to realize will never fulfill me.

I agree with Harley. We need to clear the path for those who come after us, instead of just making it more challenging and unrealistically steep. Do we all need to climb the highest mountain? Science is about the accumulation of evidence. The work of a superstar academic just accumulates with the rest. We can all work collaboratively. We can walk and build parts of the trail together to steadily cover more ground (i.e., slow scholarship).

Conquering a high mountain is impressive (i.e., star scholarship), but it is just one very high mountain in the vast landscape of knowledge.


  • Berdahl, J. L., Cooper, M., Glick, P., Livingston, R., & Williams, J. C. 2018. Work as a masculinity contest. The Journal of Social Issues, 74(3): 422–448.
  • El-Alayli, A., Hansen-Brown, A. A., & Ceynar, M. 2018. Dancing backward in high heels: Female professors experience more work demands and special favor requests, particularly from academically entitled students. Sex Roles, 79: 136–150.
  • Fletcher, J. K. 1998. Relational practice: A feminist reconstruction of work. Journal of Management Inquiry, 7(2): 163–186. Gonzalez-Morales, M. G., Kohler, T., & Rico, R. 2017. Executive Summary of the EAWOP Mid-Career Retreat for WOP/IOP/OB Scholars. Madrid, September 2017.
  • Grant, A. M. 2007. Relational job design and the motivation to make a prosocial difference. Academy of Management Review, 32(2): 393–417.
  • Harley, B. (2019). Confronting the crisis of confidence in management studies: Why senior scholars need to stop setting a bad example. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 18(2), 286-297.
  • MacNell, L., Driscoll, A., & Hunt, A. N. 2015. What’s in a name: Exposing gender bias in student ratings of teaching. Innovative Higher Education, 40(4): 291–303.
  • Ruland, B. 2017. SIOP News: Asking the Right Questions. Open Invitation to Women’s Inclusion Network Organizing Meeting at #SIOP17.