Diversity and Discrimination in Research Organizations

Cover of Diversity and Discrimination in Research Organizations


Table of contents

(14 chapters)



This article outlines the theoretical foundations of the research contributions of this edited collection about “Diversity and Discrimination in Research Organizations.” First, the sociological understanding of the basic concepts of diversity and discrimination is described and the current state of research is introduced. Second, national and organizational contextual conditions and risk factors that shape discrimination experiences and the management of diversity in research teams and organizations are presented. Third, the questions and research approaches of the individual contributions to this edited collection are presented.

Part I: Empirical Findings of Discrimination in Research Organizations


Purpose: This study examines the relationship between gender, nationality, care responsibilities for children, and the psychological work climate of researchers.

Basic Design: Based on a dataset of approximately 2,900 cases, the main effects of gender and nationality, their interaction effect and the interaction effects of gender with care responsibilities for minor children, and with hierarchical position are considered in relation to work climate. Dummy regressions and t-tests were performed to estimate and compare the means and regression parameters of the perceived group climate and the view of leaders as evaluated by researchers. The dataset used was taken from a full survey of employees of the Max Planck Society, which is one of Germany’s largest research organizations with over 80 facilities and institutes in various disciplines and a focus on basic research.

Results: Gender differences concerning the evaluation of the work climate are particularly pronounced among doctoral candidates and researchers who have a non-EU nationality. Gender gaps increasingly level out with each successive career step. Additionally, a main effect of gender and a weak interaction of gender and care responsibility for minor children was supported by the data. A main effect of nationality on work climate ratings was found but could not be meaningfully interpreted.

Interpretation and Relevance: The interaction effect between gender and the position of a researcher can be interpreted as being a product of the filtering mechanism of the research system. With this interpretation, the results of the study can plausibly be explained in the light of previous research that concludes that female researchers face higher career hurdles than male researchers.


Purpose: The study elaborates the contextual conditions of the academic workplace in which gender, age, and nationality considerably influence the likelihood of self-categorization as being affected by workplace bullying. Furthermore, the intersectionality of these sociodemographic characteristics is examined.

Basic Design: The hypotheses underlying the study were mainly derived from the social role, social identity, and cultural distance theory, as well as from role congruity and relative deprivation theory. A survey data set of a large German research organization, the Max Planck Society, was used. A total of 3,272 cases of researchers and 2,995 cases of non-scientific employees were included in the analyses performed. For both groups of employees, binary logistic regression equations were constructed. the outcome of each equation is the estimated percentage of individuals who reported themselves as having experienced bullying at work occasionally or more frequently in the 12 months prior to the survey. The predictors are the demographic and organization-specific characteristics (hierarchical position, scientific field, administrative unit) of the respondents and selected interaction terms. Using regression equations, hypothetically relevant conditional marginal means and differences in regression parameters were calculated and compared by means of t-tests.

Results: In particular, the gender-related hypotheses of the study could be completely or conditionally verified. Accordingly, female scientific and non-scientific employees showed a higher bullying vulnerability in (almost) all contexts of the academic workplace. An increased bullying vulnerability was also found for foreign researchers. However, the patterns found here contradicted those that were hypothesized. Concerning the effect of age analyzed for non-scientific personnel, especially the age group 45–59 years showed a higher bullying probability, with the gender gap in bullying vulnerability being greatest for the youngest and oldest age groups in the sample.

Interpre4tation and Relevance: The results of the study especially support the social identity theory regarding gender. In the sample studied, women in minority positions have a higher vulnerability to bullying in their work fields, which is not the case for men. However, the influence of nationality on bullying vulnerability is more complex. The study points to the further development of cultural distance theory, whose hypotheses are only partly able to explain the results. The evidence for social role theory is primarily seen in the interaction of gender with age and hierarchical level. Accordingly, female early career researchers and young women (and women in the oldest age group) on the non-scientific staff presumably experience a masculine workplace. Thus, the results of the study contradict the role congruity theory.


Purpose: Previous research identified a measurement gap in the individual assessment of social misconduct in the workplace related to gender. This gap implies that women respond to comparable self-reported acts of bullying or sexual discrimination slightly more often than men with the self-labeling as “bullied” or “sexually discriminated and/or harassed.” This study tests this hypothesis for women and men in the scientific workplace and explores patterns of gender-related differences in self-reporting behavior.

Basic design: The hypotheses on the connection between gender and the threshold for self-labeling as having been bullied or sexually discriminated against were tested based on a sample from a large German research organization. The sample includes 5,831 responses on bullying and 6,987 on sexual discrimination (coverage of 24.5 resp. 29.4 percentage of all employees). Due to a large number of cases and the associated high statistical power, this sample for the first time allows a detailed analysis of the “gender-related measurement gap.” The research questions formulated in this study were addressed using two hierarchical regression models to predict the mean values of persons who self-labeled as having been bullied or sexually discriminated against. The status of the respondents as scientific or non-scientific employees was included as a control variable.

Results: According to a self-labeling approach, women reported both bullying and sexual discrimination more frequently. This difference between women and men disappeared for sexual discrimination when, in addition to the gender of a person, self-reported behavioral items were considered in the prediction of self-labeling. For bullying, the difference between the two genders remained even in this extended prediction. No statistically significant relationship was found between the frequency of self-reported items and the effect size of their interaction with gender for either bullying or sexual discrimination. When comparing bullying and sexual discrimination, it should be emphasized that, on average, women report experiencing a larger number of different behavioral items than men.

Interpretation and relevance: The results of the study support the current state of research. However, they also show how volatile the measurement instruments for bullying and sexual discrimination are. For example, the gender-related measurement gap is considerably influenced by single items in the Negative Acts Questionnaire and Sexual Experience Questionnaire. The results suggest that women are generally more likely than men to report having experienced bullying and sexual discrimination. While an unexplained “gender gap” in the understanding of bullying was found for bullying, this was not the case for sexual discrimination.


Sexual harassment and violence are taboo topics at German universities. Accordingly, there is a large gap in research on the prevalence and functioning of sexual harassment and assault in higher education as well as on social, cultural, and organizational conditions that foster and reproduce gender-based violence at universities. Previous research and our own data suggest that there is a perception among students, faculty and staff that normalizes, trivializes, and even legitimizes the problem. Based on a quantitative survey with students on the prevalence of sexual harassment and violence as well as the results of our analysis of how German universities deal with the issue, we relate this perception to the organizational structures of the higher-education system and discuss historically evolved hierarchies and androcentric structures as well as their reformulation in the wake of neoliberalization as causal for the tabooing and hiding of sexual harassment at German universities.


In the early 2010s, the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) became increasingly concerned about incidents of academic workplace “bullying” on the campus, and in 2014–2016 created policies designed to address such behavior at the University. The new policies and accompanying initiatives were implemented in 2017, defining a new term to describe these behaviors as “hostile and intimidating behavior” (HIB). We use data from three sources to explore the outcomes of the new HIB policies and initiatives to date. Evaluation data from training sessions show the importance of educating the campus community about HIB, providing evidence that the training sessions increase HIB knowledge. Data from two campus-wide surveys measure incidence of HIB for different groups on campus (e.g., analysis by gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability status, rank, job duty, and/or the intersection of these characteristics), as well as changes in the knowledge about HIB as reported by faculty and staff. These data show that UW-Madison faculty and staff are increasing their knowledge of HIB as a problem and also increasing their knowledge about what to do about it. Underrepresented groups who more commonly experience HIB agree that this culture is improving. At the same time, we are seeing slow and uneven progress in reduction of actual incidence of HIB at UW-Madison. We close with some “lessons learned” about instituting such a sweeping, campus-wide effort to reduce HIB, in the hopes that other campuses can learn from our experience.


“The world needs science, science needs women” is the message given by UNESCO in the program for the development of women in science” (UNESCO, 2017). In Vietnam, women’s participation and achievements in scientific research is considered a great and important resource for industrialization and modernization. Even so, are there gender differences in scientific achievement in the social science research institutes in Vietnam? What factors influence the scientific achievement of female social researchers? The answers will be based on data from a 2017 survey with a sample of 756 researchers, of which 77.6% were female. The survey was conducted by the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences, a leading, ministry-level national center for the social sciences in Vietnam. This chapter analyzed the scientific achievements of researchers through their position as principal investigators of research projects and their publications, and factors that may impact this. Bivariate and multivariate analyses of factors that may affect the scientific achievement of researchers found that gender differences in academic achievement in the social sciences in Vietnam was still prevalent. Female researchers’ scientific achievements were lower than those of their male counterparts. The contribution to science of Vietnamese female researchers was limited by many different factors; the most important were the academic rank of the researchers and gender stereotype that considered housework the responsibility of women.

Part II: Cultural Context Conditions of Academia for Diversity and Discrimination


Building on work that explores the relationship between individual beliefs and ability to recognize discrimination (e.g., Kaiser and Major, 2006), we examine how an adherence to beliefs about gender essentialism, gender egalitarianism, and meritocracy shape one’s interpretation of an illegal act of sexual harassment involving a male supervisor and female subordinate. We also consider whether the role of the gendered culture of engineering (Faulkner, 2009) matters for this relationship. Specifically, we conducted an online survey-experiment asking individuals to report their beliefs about gender and meritocracy and subsequently to evaluate a fictitious but illegal act of sexual harassment in one of two university research settings: an engineering department, a male-dominated setting whose culture is documented as being unwelcoming to women (Hatmaker, 2013; Seron, Silbey, Cech, and Rubineau, 2018), and an ambiguous research setting. We find evidence that the stronger one’s adherence to gender egalitarian beliefs, the greater one’s ability to detect inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment while gender essentialist beliefs play no role in their detection. The stronger one’s adherence to merit beliefs, the less likely they are to view an illegal interaction as either inappropriate or as sexual harassment. We account for respondent knowledge of sexual harassment and their socio-demographic characteristics, finding that the former is more often associated with the detection of inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment at work. We close with a discussion of the transferability of results and policy implications of our findings.


This chapter looks at the discursive dimension of the working environment in research and higher education organizations; more specifically at neoliberal managerial discourse and at how it participates in shaping the way researchers, teachers and support staff perceive themselves and their experiences. It is based on a multiple case study and combines an intersectional and a socio-clinical approach. The empirical data is constituted by in-depth interviews with women conducted in Ireland and Chile, and includes some observations made in France. A thematic analysis of individual narratives of self-ascribed experiences of being bullied enables to look behind the veil drawn by managerial discourse, thus providing insights into power vectors and power domains contributing to workplace violence. It also shows that workplace bullying may reinforce identification to undervalued social categories. This contribution argues that neoliberal managerial discourse, by encouraging social representations of “neutral” individuals at work, or else celebrating their “diversity,” conceals power relations rooting on different social categories. This process influences one’s perception of one’s experience and its verbalization. At the same time, feeling assigned to one or more of undervalued social category can raise the perception of being bullied or discriminated against. While research has shown that only a minority of incidents of bullying and discrimination are reported within organizations, this contribution suggests that acknowledging the multiplicity and superposition of categories and their influence in shaping power relations could help secure a more collective and caring approach, and thus foster a safer work culture and atmosphere in research organizations.


Diversity management is seen as a decisive factor for ensuring the development of socially responsible innovations (Beacham and Shambaugh, 2011; Sonntag, 2014; López, 2015; Uebernickel et al., 2015). However, many diversity management approaches fail due to a one-sided consideration of diversity (Thomas and Ely, 2019) and a lacking linkage between the prevailing organizational culture and the perception of diversity in the respective organization. Reflecting the importance of diverse perspectives, research institutions have a special responsibility to actively deal with diversity, as they are publicly funded institutions that drive socially relevant development and educate future generations of developers, leaders and decision-makers. Nevertheless, only a few studies have so far dealt with the influence of the special framework conditions of the science system on diversity management. Focusing on the interdependency of the organizational culture and diversity management especially in a university research environment, this chapter aims in a first step to provide a theoretical perspective on the framework conditions of a complex research organization in Germany in order to understand the system-specific factors influencing diversity management. In a second step, an exploratory cluster analysis is presented, investigating the perception of diversity and possible influencing factors moderating this perception in a scientific organization. Combining both steps, the results show specific mechanisms and structures of the university research environment that have an impact on diversity management and rigidify structural barriers preventing an increase of diversity. The quantitative study also points out that the management level takes on a special role model function in the scientific system and thus has an influence on the perception of diversity. Consequently, when developing diversity management approaches in research organizations, it is necessary to consider the top-down direction of action, the special nature of organizational structures in the university research environment as well as the special role of the professorial level as role model for the scientific staff.


This chapter deals with the perception of (sensed) discrimination and the coping strategies of Russian-speaking female scholars in Germany and applies an intersectional approach between culture, migration, gender and social background. Based on telephone interviews, the study aims to contribute to the discussion on discrimination in research environments and individuals’ professional integration by exploring narratives of migration and work in 13 women who migrated from the former Soviet Union (FSU) to Germany from 1990s to 2010s. Based on the findings, the author derives implications for policy and practice, such as a recommendation to implement introductory conversations with newcomers to reduce culture clash in competitive work contexts.



The essay is addressed to practitioners in research management and from academic leadership. It describes which measures can contribute to creating an inclusive climate for research teams and preventing and effectively dealing with discrimination. The practical recommendations consider the policy and organizational levels, as well as the individual perspective of research managers. Following a series of basic recommendations, six lessons learned are formulated, derived from the contributions to the edited collection on “Diversity and Discrimination in Research Organizations.”

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