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Implementing gender quotas in academia: a practice lens

Jolien Voorspoels (Department of Political Sciences, Universiteit Antwerpen, Antwerp, Belgium)
Inge Bleijenbergh (Nijmegen School of Management, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, The Netherlands)

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

ISSN: 2040-7149

Article publication date: 21 February 2019

Issue publication date: 16 May 2019




The purpose of this paper is to explore the practices utilized by university actors when implementing gender quotas, and study how these practices affect gender equality in academic decision-making bodies.


The study applies a practice theory lens to the case study of a Belgian university implementing a gender quota by performing 26 semi-structured interviews with actors, and collecting and analyzing relevant organizational documents.


This study shows that university actors implement gender quotas through three practices: gender-specific calls, scouting and “playing around”. Identifying this variation in practices helps to understand both actors’ sense-making of compliance with gender quotas and women’s decision-making power in academic bodies.

Research limitations/implications

This study explores how practices interact with the organization’s broader context and its power dynamics. In future studies, adding ethnographic observations would strengthen the practice approach.

Practical implications

The study indicates that implementing gender quotas can foster women’s representation in decision-making, but that a strictly procedural sense-making of gender quotas could also undermine this. Universities should continue implementing gender quotas, further analyze their implementation practices and comprehensively adapt their organizational policies and practices to comply with gender equality goals substantively.


Through a practice theory approach, this paper offers original insight into how actors comply with gender quotas. Uncovering the implementation process in particular, the paper reveals how gender quotas could foster gender equality in academic decision-making.



The authors thank all respondents for their participation in the interviews and would, furthermore, like to thank Petra Meier, Yvonne Benschop, Ine Gremmen, Channah Herschberg, Monic Lansu and Pleun van Arensbergen for their critical feedback during the research and writing process. The authors also thank the editor and the reviewers for their valuable feedback. This research was conducted within the supportive framework of the European FP7-project EGERA (Grant No. 612413).


Voorspoels, J. and Bleijenbergh, I. (2019), "Implementing gender quotas in academia: a practice lens", Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Vol. 38 No. 4, pp. 447-461.



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Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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