Although women are still underrepresented in the applicant pool for faculty positions in math, science, and engineering at major research universities, those who do apply are interviewed and hired at rates equal to or higher than those for men, says a new report from the National Research Council. Similarly, women are underrepresented among those considered for tenure, but those who are considered receive tenure at the same or higher rates than men.
The congressionally mandated report examines how women at research-intensive universities fare compared with men at key transition points in their careers. Two national surveys were commissioned to help address the issue. The report's conclusions are based on the findings of these surveys of tenure-track and tenured faculty in six disciplines -- biology, chemistry, mathematics, civil engineering, electrical engineering, and physics -- at 89 institutions in 2004 and 2005. The study committee also heard testimony and examined data from federal agencies, professional societies, individual university studies, and academic articles.
In each of the six disciplines, women who applied for tenure-track positions had a better chance of being interviewed and receiving job offers than male applicants had. For example, women made up 20 percent of applicants for positions in mathematics but accounted for 28 percent of those interviewed, and received 32 percent of the job offers. This was also true for tenured positions, with the exception of those in biology.
However, women are not applying for tenure-track jobs at research-intensive universities at the same rate that they are earning Ph.D.s, the report says. The gap is most pronounced in disciplines with larger fractions of women receiving Ph.D.s; for example, while women received 45 percent of the Ph.D.s in biology awarded by research-intensive universities from 1999 to 2003, they accounted for only 26 percent of applicants to tenure-track positions at those schools. Research is needed to investigate why more women are not applying for these jobs, the committee said.
"Our data suggest that, on average, institutions have become more effective in using the means under their direct control to promote faculty diversity, including hiring and promoting women and providing resources," said committee co-chair Claude Canizares, Bruno Rossi Professor of Physics and vice president for research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Nevertheless, we also find evidence for stubborn and persistent underrepresentation of women at all faculty ranks."
The surveys revealed that most institutional strategies to try to increase the proportion of women in the applicant pool -- such as targeted advertising and recruiting at conferences -- did not show significant effectiveness, the report says. One strategy did appear to make a difference: Having a female chair of the search committee and a high number of women on the committee were associated with a higher number of women in the applicant pool.
The report also assessed gender differences in the following areas:
The committee urged further research on unanswered questions, such as why more women are not applying for tenure-track positions, why female faculty continue to experience a sense of isolation, and how nonacademic issues affect women's and men's career choices at critical junctures.
"Overall the newly released data indicate important progress, and signal to both young men and especially to young women that what had been the status quo at research-intensive universities is changing," said committee co-chair Sally Shaywitz, Audrey G. Ratner Professor in Learning Development and co-director of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, Yale University School of Medicine. "There is a movement toward more gender equity than noted in previous reports or often publicly appreciated. At the same time, the findings show that we are not there yet. The gap between female graduates and the pool of female applicants is very real, and suggests that focus next be placed on examining challenges such as family and child responsibilities, which typically impact women more than men."
The study was sponsored by the National Science Foundation at the request of Congress. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies. They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter. The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.
The report, Gender Differences in the Careers of Science, Engineering, and Mathematics Faculty, can be purchased.
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