Gender disparities in colloquium speakers at top universities

By Christine L. Nittrouera,1, Michelle R. Hebla, Leslie Ashburn-Nardob, Rachel C. E. Trump-Steelea, David M. Lanea,c, and Virginia Valiand.  Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a report of three studies.

Recently, research has focused on identifying gender gatekeepers—people or practices that may (unintentionally) engage in, create, or maintain gender disparities. In the current research, we examine gender differences in academic colloquium speakers. Colloquium talks lead to enhancement of a researcher’s reputation, networks, research collaborations, and sometimes result in job offers.

Results from our three studies indicate that women are underrepresented relative to men as colloquium speakers across six disciplines. To examine the role of self-selection, we find that women neither decline talk invitations at greater rates nor question the importance of talks more than men do. Finally, we show that the presence of women as colloquium chairs (and potentially committee members) increases the likelihood of having female colloquium speakers.


Colloquium talks at prestigious universities both create and reflect academic researchers’ reputations. Gender disparities in colloquium talks can arise through a variety of mechanisms. The current study examines gender differences in colloquium speakers at 50 prestigious US colleges and universities in 2013–2014. Using archival data, we analyzed 3,652 talks in six academic disciplines. Men were more likely than women to be colloquium speakers even after controlling for the gender and rank of the available speakers. Eliminating alternative explanations (e.g., women declining invitations more often than men), our follow-up data revealed that female and male faculty at top universities reported no differences in the extent to which they (i) valued and (ii) turned down speaking engagements. Additional data revealed that the presence of women as colloquium chairs (and potentially on colloquium committees) increased the likelihood of women appearing as colloquium speakers. Our data suggest that those who invite and schedule speakers serve as gender gatekeepers with the power to create or reduce gender differences in academic reputations.

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