top of page

Systems Thinking and Gender Equity in Higher Education

Why Leaders Should Use Systems Thinking Tools to Address Gender Inequity in Higher Education

Written by: Thea Louise Thomaseth Bugge

More needs to be done to address gender inequity in higher education. Women still face many forms of systemic challenges that can harm their educational success. They may have less time to study, have poorer mental health, fewer financial resources, and experience more kinds of discrimination. These challenges can harm anyone, but may disproportionally impact women from traditionally underserved populations.

Yet women still enroll at higher rates than men while gaining lower financial outcomes. Therefore, it is important that stakeholders work on efforts to support gender equity in higher education.

Stakeholders need to understand gender inequity through systems thinking. Systems thinking maps can help stakeholders identify many of the complex factors that contribute to an issue. They can also help identify feedback loops and how altering one factor may impact other ones. The customization that system maps provide can help stakeholders successfully address complex issues like systemic gender inequity.

Below is a list of some of the kinds of challenges that contribute to gender inequity in higher education. This list is non-comprehensive and factors may vary by geographic region and institutions. The list is intended to serve as examples of factors to include in a systems thinking map.

Sticker price affordability In 2021;

  • Men still earn more per degree than women.

  • The gender wage gap still exists (which can make college affordability harder for women).

    • The gender wage gap falls hardest on women of color.

    • Women held 58% of all student loan debts.

      • On average, Black women still owed more than they borrowed after 12 years of repayment.

  • Menstrual hygiene related expenses (check out a former MAPS student blog about it here).

  • Child-care expenses place additional outside financial burdens for student mothers.

  • Time constraints; many factors can cause women to miss classes or have less time to devote to schoolwork.

    • Children and other familial obligations.

    • Housework: Women still do the majority of unpaid housework in the U.S., giving women less time to balance course-work into their daily lives.

    • Menstruation can cause missed productivity for women due to a variety of reasons. Women may miss school or become less productive due to pain or heavy bleeding.

  • Mental health; women are at a higher risk of a wide variety of mental health issues that can exacerbate enrollment and academic challenges.

    • Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia impacts both men and women in college. However, women experience them at ranges between 10 - 20% compared to 4 - 10% for men (based on data from 2012*).

      • Students who identify as transgender or gender-diverse may have even higher rates of eating disorders according to a 2021 study published in the National Library of Medicine.

    • Sexual violence - women experience sexual violence and assault at much higher rates than men. Consequences can be devastating for victims and impact student's academic and social lives in a variety of ways. Check out this former MAPS Student blog article to read more.

      • Yet men face alarming rates of sexual violence in higher education, too. Traditional college aged male students are 78% more likely to fall victim to rape or sexual assault than their male non-student counterparts.

  • Sexism (general); still impacts women in all levels of education.

    • Women only hold 22% of all top leadership positions in the highest ranked research institutions despite earning more degrees than men.

    • A 2022 Gallup research report found that 28% of their women respondents said that their gender limited their career advancement.

Columnist of the month

This month we are featuring Dr. Gina Garcia. She is an activist and writer about equity and justice in higher education with a focus on Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs). Gina currently works as an Associate Professor in the department of Educational Foundations, Organizations, and Policy at the University of Pittsburgh. Her research includes a holistic focus, such as understanding how racism impacts students of color, and how understanding the roles of the experiences of faculty and staff impact student outcomes at HSIs.

Her research and work for her book "Becoming Hispanic-Serving Institutions: Opportunities for Colleges & Universities" awarded her the 2020 'American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education Book of the Year Award'. She also has experience with sharing her message and work through public speaking as well; as of 2022 she has delivered over 100 public lectures and workshops across the U.S.. This spring (2023) she released her new book called "Transforming Hispanic Serving Institutions for Equity and Justice". (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2023).

She also has a blog where she talks about issues related to HSIs: ¿Qué Pasa, HSIs? Blog

She also has a podcast, where she talks about issues related to HSIs. For additional information, read this Forbes article about why you should listen to her podcast.

30 views0 comments


bottom of page