Reviewing institutional documents: understanding the institutional gender discourse through documents and lived experiences

Problem (evidence)

It was not clear what the institutional discourse around gender was and whether key institutional documents reflected the experiences of staff.


To understand better the institutional discourse around gender through reviewing key institutional documents along with lived experiences of individuals (to whom these documents are addressed). 

This action was designed to contribute to current research on gender in higher education in two ways. Firstly, while making the invisible visible has been on critical discourse analysts’ agendas (Wodak, 2015) for decades, gender ideologies in the academic context remain under-explored. Secondly, it brings together critical discourse analysis of institutional documents and lived experiences of institutional practices in relation to gender to investigate gender ideologies.


Budget for research assistant for 6 months-part-time for qualitative discourse analysis and transcription.

An additional research assistant for two months (quantitative part, NVivo software).

Sorting out resources for the research (offices/software/audio recorders).

NVivo software.

Ethical approval application.

Brief outcomes

The review and analysis included 185 documents and 20 semi-structured interviews with junior and senior academic staff members. The analysis showed that the institutional documents are not in congruence with the lived experiences of the academic staff and do not reflect the complexity of these experiences. The ambiguity and different use of concepts in various institutional texts seems to be reflected in the multiple interpretations that individual attach to them. 

Key area

The governance bodies, key actors and decision-makers

Type of action

Data gathering and analysis


University of Warwick
Higher education institution

Action level of implementation

Researchers/professors and technical and administrative staff


A qualitative, multi-method approach was been adopted in this project, using an institution as a case study in order to produce the basis for future research projects and contrasting accounts. This project brought together the following two methods: 1) review of institutional documents and 2) qualitative interviews in order to answer the following research questions:

(a) how do institutions construct gendered or gender-neutral ideologies, practices and policies?

(b) what are the lived experiences of those policies/practices? 

(c) to what extent there is a (in) congruence between institutional policies and lived experiences and  

(d) what consequences this (in) congruence might have on institutional change for gender equality?

1) Review of institutional documents

Institutional documents and texts of the University of Warwick have been reviewed in order to identify and address gender-(in)sensitive language and gendered ideologies. The analysis included the following documents:

  1. a) Mission/vision/strategy of the university (website).
  2. b) Recruitment appraisal and promotion policies, including flexible working guidelines.
  3. c) Job advertisements (available on the website).

In order to review these documents, we created a corpus consisted of 185 documents and texts using NVivo, a software suitable for qualitative data analysis. The documents were analysed through the following process. Initially we familiarised ourselves with the documents and generated initial codes (descriptive coding). We then searched for themes among the initial codes and reviewed the themes (thematic coding). In the last stage of the analysis we created node hierarchies and used queries in order to understand how the identified themes are related to our research questions (analytic coding).

The findings of the institutional documents’ review fed into the design of the interview guide. For example, the examination of the job advertisements’ descriptions revealed that the themes of leadership and excellence were listed as essential criteria. This led to the inclusion of relevant questions in the interviews, in order to clarify how interviewees perceive leadership and excellence.

2) Interviews

Following the review of the institutional documents, we conducted 20 interviews with academic staff members in order to gain an insight into the lived-experience of the institution. The interviews were then used re- analyse the documents and websites, to determine any differences between institutional documents and lived experience. 

The interviews were qualitative and semi-structured and lasted from 30 minutes to 2 hours. All participants were informed about the audio-recording of the discussion and had formally consented to it. The sample type was convenient: An expression of interest was circulated among departments and participants volunteered to take part.


The interviews were conducted with academic staff members at different levels of seniority and from three departments: two from natural sciences and engineering and one from social sciences. We targeted different career stages and these specific departments in order to find out how these factors affect people’s ideologies and allow for different narratives of the institutional experience. 10 of our participants were female and 10 male. Their seniority levels were as follows: 4 professors, 1 reader, 7 associate professors, 3 assistant professors, 1 principal teaching fellow, 1 teaching fellow, 1 teaching assistant and 2 research fellows. Finally, in terms of their nationality, 11 of them were British and 9 non- British.


The data have been analysed following a Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) tradition. Discourse Analysis (DA) provides the tools for exploring how organisations talk themselves into their image and how good and bad practice is reinforced and can be challenged (Holmes & Stubbe, 2003). Making the invisible visible has been on critical discourse analysts’ agenda (Wodak, 2015) for decades but gender ideologies in the academic context remain under-explored. 

Useful steps regarding implementation:

Before data collection

-Literature Review (ditto)

-Methodological Decisions (sample of participants, disciplines, duration of interviews, development of the first draft of the interview guide, development of relevant documents –consent form/participants information sheet)

-Agreeing on workload and tasks

-Drawing the budget (substantial budget required to cover research assistance for 6 months at least and transcription costs)

-Contact the participants and arrange meetings

Main stage of the project-data collection

  • Create the corpus of institutional documents
  • Analyse the documents using NVivo software
  • Based on the findings revise the interview guide questions
  • Print the relevant documents (consent form/participants information sheet)
  • Make sure the recorders work properly 
  • Conduct the interviews 
  • Transcribe the interviews (either yourself or with the assistance of professional services)
  • Analyse the interviews following thematic and Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) principles

After the event

  • Write an RDF report
  • Dissemination activities (presentations to conferences, writing papers)
  • Write a thank you note to all interviewees for all their help


Recruiting participants can be challenging.

Scheduling the interviews around participants’ availability requires flexibility from the researcher’s part.

Coping strategies

Make use of personal channels and connections to recruit participants.

Tips/strategies – Lessons learnt

Researchers should build relationships with university colleagues in Communication and E&D and other units where they deal with gender equality aspects to ensure that there is information and knowledge exchange from start to finish of activities

Consent forms, participant information leaflets (follow the links to download)