Growing awareness of gender disparities in rank, retention, and pay of faculty has resulted in a growing body of research seeking to assess the relative impact of factors ranging from publishing rates and funding levels to organizational climate and family responsibilities. However, few studies have focused on the microlevel symbolic processes through which faculty expectations are constructed, communicated to individuals, and applied during evaluations. We analyze in‐depth interview transcripts with mid‐career faculty to explore how faculty interactions result in differing symbolic meanings and interpretations of productivity articulated by male and female faculty members. We find that men articulate more conventional understandings of work and productivity aligned with Acker's (1990) gendered organizational logics, while women describe a more contested symbolic field. Divergent understandings of productivity and the processes by which they are negotiated may play a significant role in the reproduction of gendered faculty career trajectories. Our findings highlight the importance of understanding how social processes contribute to larger patterns of inequality within social institutions.