Female professors receive more work demands

Dr. Amani El-Alayli’s research reveals gender bias in college classrooms


Mckenzie Ford

Dr. Amani El-Alayli teaches for the psychology department at EWU. Between two studies shes conducted, El-Alayli showed that female professors recieve more special-favor requests and standard work demands than male professors.

By Sam Jackson, Reporter

An EWU psychology professor’s research showed some students inflict gender bias against female professors in higher education institutions.

After finding that sometimes her ‘no’ wasn’t being heard enough in the classroom, especially regarding her policy against giving out her PowerPoint slides, EWU professor Dr. Amani El-Alayli wondered if her male colleagues were going through the same thing and if any of this was somehow related to gender.

“People expecting women to be more nurturing and helpful could get generalized to other settings, and so maybe me not giving out my slides would contradict that expectation,” El-Alayli said.

This experience led El-Alayli to study gender dynamics in the classroom and discover the extra burdens female professors encounter by some students.


The research

El-Alayli teaches for the psychology department at EWU. Around the year 2013, she and two other collaborators—Michelle Ceynar, a faculty member at Pacific Lutheran University, and Ashley Brown, a former graduate student of El-Alayli and a professor at Bridgewater State—began conducting two studies that centered around the bias some students have about female professors.

The first study consisted of 121 EWU psychology student participants. Fifty-eight students were female, 61 male and two identified as other or unspecified. It was an online survey that displayed fictitious professors that were either male or female. Students evaluated seven hypothetical scenarios involving requests for special favors from the professor.  

The purpose of the first study was to determine if students were more likely to expect female professors to approve their special favor requests, causing the students to make more requests and express negative reactions when their requests are denied.

I think it’s important for people to be willing to accept that they might not always treat people fairly.”

— Dr. Amani El-Alayli, EWU Professor

Special favor requests included students asking to retake a test after failing due to a difficult week, asking the professor to meet to go over all the material they missed in class after missing for a good reason, and asking the professor for study guides after being informed that there will be no study guides offered, just to name a few. Students rated scenarios like these on a scale of one to seven—one being not at all likely to ask and seven being extremely likely to ask for these favors.

In this study, students also completed an academic entitlement assessment, in which they rated their entitlement on a scale of one to seven (the same as the other survey). Students answered on if they felt that the professor should approach them if they are struggling in the class, if they thought they were a product of their own environment and it’s not their fault for doing poorly in class, if they blame the professor for failing a test due to not understanding the lecture and if because they pay tuition that they deserve a passing grade.

“The reason we included academic entitlement is because I was thinking about all of my hardworking students who wouldn’t really ask for any of those special favors in the first place,” El-Alayli said. For them, the requests wouldn’t differ by professor gender because requests like these wouldn’t even cross their mind in the first place.”

The study found that academically entitled students had significantly stronger expectations of getting a ‘yes’ for special favor requests from female professors.

Greater demands on female professors

In the second study 300 institutions were randomly selected by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education to participate. Eighty-eight professors took part in the study. One male and one female professor from each participating school received a study link.

The professors were asked to think about their most frequently taught course and determine the frequency of special favor requests and standard requests by students. Standard requests included meeting during office hours, receiving emails about materials, explaining an assignment further and other standard duties professors should do. Additionally, professors reported other-directed emotional labor, or forms of emotional support toward students.

The study showed that female professors exceeded male professors in both categories of requests, and reported more other-directed emotional labor.

“So we did find that female professors were reporting that they were getting more extra favor requests, but they were also reporting getting more standard work demands than male professors,” El-Alayli said. “Those are things that we’re supposed to for our job, but female professors were saying they were getting more of them, which is interesting.”

After all of the studies El-Alayli has done on how students perceive their professors, she said she isn’t seeing evidence that students have less respect for their female professors or view them as less competent.

“I think a lot of people assume that’s what’s at the root of all this, but it’s not really that,” El-Alayli said. “It’s just people expect women to be nurturers, so it makes sense that students might expect female professors to be more nurturing and to take on that motherly role.”


Implementation in the classroom

El-Alayli said that she’s always been pretty firm about sticking to her policies and being a fair teacher.

“(The studies) haven’t changed how I have taught but changed how I understand student reactions,” El-Alayli said.

El-Alayli has told her students about the research in these studies at times because she wants them to know about the pattern of gender bias in classrooms.

“I don’t think students are intending to treat their female and male professors differently,” El-Alayli said. “Also, female students are doing it just as much as the male students. So it makes me think that this is a bias people have that they might want to know about and control for. Plus the idea of students taking responsibility is an important thing to learn in college. So generally speaking I think it can be helpful to tell them if they expect too much of their professors.”

El-Alayli has noticed some students “trying to overcorrect for it” and end up not asking her for anything.

“As a professor I want to know what their concerns are and I want to be able to help them in a way that I think is fair,” El-Alayli said. “But now they’re afraid to ask for any extra credit in the course when it might be something that I would offer.”

El-Alayli’s goal is for people to be aware of the biases that exist. She wants students and teachers to treat each other fairly.

“I think it’s important for people to be willing to accept that they might not always treat people fairly,” El-Alayli said. “Because if you think you’re immune to that, if you think you’re invulnerable, then you will never fix it.”

Want to know more about what EWU professors are doing? Click on these stories to find out!