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Rationalizing gender inequality at scientific research organizations: A reproduction of the Indian socio-cultural context

Namrata Gupta (Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, Kanpur, India)

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

ISSN: 2040-7149

Article publication date: 12 March 2020

Issue publication date: 21 July 2020




It is well-known that women scientists are few in numbers in prestigious research organizations and still fewer in leadership positions. The purpose of this article is to analyze how organizational gender inequality is rationalized by scientists so as to highlight how discourse on equality reproduces gender at the workplace.


Data was collected through semi-structured face-to-face interviews with the scientists in four research laboratories dealing with medicinal drugs and chemical substances. It uses discourse analysis by Foucault as a theoretical lens to examine how gender inequality is rationalized and the power relations behind it. It adopts the perspective that socio-cultural beliefs form the basis of gendered practices in organizations.


It finds that the scientists refuse to blame the organization for inequalities by delinking gender issues from the organizational domain. This delinking occurs through rationalizing gender inequality as “social”, through separating informal behavior from the “system” and perceiving women as “privileged”. Such discourses while keeping intact the rationality and meritocracy of the organizations/institutions, reproduce the ideological “public-private dichotomy” and the male dominance at the workplace.

Practical implications

The findings indicate the need for extensive studies in India highlighting how gender is done in organizations, exploring men's role in undoing gender and government initiatives to create a climate of gender equality.


It highlights how discourse on gender equality/inequality at the workplace manifests dominance of men and represents an intersection of Indian social, organizational and institutional contexts at workplace. It also calls into question the applicability of the western concepts of “individualization” and “gender fatigue” to the Indian context.



This work was supported by the Senior Fellowship provided by the Indian Council of Social Science Research (vide F. No. 2–11/10/S-Fel.). The author is grateful to the organizations surveyed for their cooperation and to all the scientists who participated in this study. The author was affiliated to IIT Kanpur for this project.


Gupta, N. (2020), "Rationalizing gender inequality at scientific research organizations: A reproduction of the Indian socio-cultural context", Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Vol. 39 No. 6, pp. 689-706.



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