When confronted with a male-dominated list of nominees for an award for research excellence, I am troubled if the imbalance is significantly greater than the male : female ratio of faculty in the relevant academic disciplines. For example, if the % of female nominees is less than half the % of female faculty who are eligible for the award, I would like to know why.
Are more male faculty meeting the criteria for eligibility, and if so, why? Or are more male faculty being nominated for other reasons; and if so, what are these reasons?
And in the nominating letters for the few female candidates, why do some nominators (typically a department chair or other senior faculty colleague) mention all the mentoring a female professor has received, but this is never mentioned for male faculty? If an award is for research excellence, why is it even relevant to mention extensive mentoring?
Perhaps the departments that provide extensive mentoring of assistant professors are proud of this, but mentioning mentoring for female nominees but not for male ones undermines the nominations of female faculty. There is nothing to be ashamed of in being mentored, but if it is only described in the nomination letters of women faculty, this implies that the women needed mentoring but the men didn't or that the women attained research excellence with lots of help but the men didn't need help.
And then, in the midst of my being troubled by some of these issues, a different diversity issue arose: An extraordinarily talented male science professor (MSP) was passed over for an award because his letter writers were not diverse. That is, the 10-12 letters saying that this guy was the most awesome scientist in his field were all from men. I think it is sad that there aren't (m)any senior women of sufficient stature (i.e. National Academy members) who could comment on the excellence of this MSP, but should he be denied a significant award because of this?
These two cases are related. The first case -- the lack of women nominees -- indicates a systemic problem in recognizing the research excellence of women faculty, and the second -- the lack of women letter writers -- is a side effect of the lack of women at senior levels. The first is a serious problem because it directly impacts the career advancement of many women faculty. The second is unfair to the MSP involved, but he is already a successful and highly respected scientist, so the serious problem isn't so much that he is at a disadvantage because of a situation for which he is not individually responsible, but that the situation exists at all.
Perhaps if we can solve the first problem, the second one will not arise and a random collection of reference letters from the top researchers in any particular field will consist of some men and some women. I think the MSP in question deserves to get an excellent award even if there are no women peer scientists who can support the nomination, but, in the hopes that something good could come of this situation, perhaps the first problem will be more likely to be solved if more men feel that they personally are being harmed by a lack of women at all levels of seniority in the sciences.
10 months ago