June 2, 2009 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:
- Access to institutional resources: Men and women reported comparable access to many institutional resources, including start-up packages, travel funds, and supervision of similar numbers of postdocs and research assistants. And in general, men and women spent similar proportions of their time on teaching, research, and service. Although at first glance men seemed to have more lab space than women, this difference disappeared when other factors such as discipline and faculty rank were accounted for. However, men appeared to have greater access to equipment needed for research and to clerical support, the report said.
- Tenure: In every field, women were underrepresented among candidates for tenure relative to the number of female assistant professors. In chemistry, for example, women made up 22 percent of assistant professors, but only 15 percent of the faculty being considered for tenure. Women also spent significantly longer time as assistant professors. However, women who did come up for tenure review were at least as likely as men to receive tenure.
- Salary: Women full professors were paid on average 8 percent less than their male counterparts, the report says. This difference in salary did not exist in the ranks of associate and assistant professors.
- Climate and interaction with colleagues: Female faculty reported that they were less likely than men to engage in conversation with their colleagues on many professional topics, including research, salary, and benefits. This distance may prevent women from accessing important information and may make them feel less included and more marginalized in their professional lives, the committee observed. While on average institutions have done more to address aspects of career transitions under their control, the report notes, one of the remaining challenges may be in the climate at the departmental level.
- Outcomes: On most key measures -- grant funding, nominations for awards and honors, and offers of positions at other institutions -- there is little evidence of differences in outcomes. In terms of funding for research, male faculty had significantly more funding than female faculty in biology; in other disciplines, the differences were not significant.
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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