• female academics;
  • meritocracy;
  • masculinity;
  • power

This article examines the gendered nature of employment in UK universities, showing women's experience of discrimination through differences in contract status and in access to academic hierarchies. It argues that the typical academic career path is structured according to a male perception of success: research-active, participating in the Research Assessment Exercise, an uninterrupted career history. The system of meritocracy upon which appointment and promotion within academic are based, the article argues, reinforces such a masculine approach to career success. These meritocratic systems of inequality reflect and reproduce the discursive practices of masculinity that present disadvantages to a majority of women and some men.