Thanks to Hope for reminding me to comment on the NRC report on women in science, engineering, and math: Gender Differences at Critical Transitions in the Careers of Science, Engineering, and Mathematics Faculty (at major research universities). I've had a draft of a post lurking in my inbox for a while, but haven't had time to think about it sufficiently until this weekend. I also haven't read the full report ($43 for the pdf); only the synopsis.
As I'm sure many of you already know, the NRC report presents data on the % of women applying for faculty positions, being invited to interview, receiving job offers, and, once hired, receiving tenure. The key findings were:
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.
I attribute the equal/higher rates of women being interviewed and receiving job offers in part to the increasing number of women in applicant pools, but also in part to increased participation (in the US) of women on search committees and an increased awareness of administrators and faculty that highly qualified women applicants were previously not being given full and fair consideration. (relevant anecdote from the FSP archives)
During my travels earlier this summer, I mentioned to a colleague that it didn't surprise me that an all-male hiring committee in a department with no women faculty had recently managed to come up with an all-male interview pool (at a European university). My colleague looked at me strangely and said "But there might not have been any qualified female applicants". (relevant anecdote from the FSP archives)
Maybe, maybe not.. but the presence of women on hiring committees has been shown to be important in giving qualified women applicants fair consideration.
In any case, there are a few things that caught my eye about the NRC study:
The choice of disciplines to survey: biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, civil engineering, electrical engineering. I haven't read the full report, but I wonder if biology had significantly different data than the physical sciences, engineering, and math. The news release hints that biology was different in some ways:
..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. [but what was the trend and magnitude of the bio-exception?]
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.
Is the latter statistic related to a difference in how NIH and NSF award grants?
And I wonder what the data would look like for some fields not surveyed, e.g. mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, materials science. Similar or different?
This statement: .. 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.
That statistic is not surprising. People get PhDs at research-intensive universities, but not all of those people (male or female) are going to apply for tenure-track jobs at such universities. These data ignore women who apply for tenure-track jobs at small liberal arts colleges or who seek non-academic jobs as PhD-level scientists, engineers, and mathematicians. Surely there is a more relevant measure of whether women are applying for tenure-track jobs at R1 universities in unusually low numbers compared to male peers?
This part of the report disturbed me, and does not fit my definition of "women faring well" (a phrase used in the title of the news release on the report):
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.
What is happening to the women who are hired but do not come up for tenure? How many leave voluntarily, and, if leaving voluntarily, what are the major reasons? What is the definition of "significantly longer"? I guess I need to read the full report to find out the answers to these questions.
And this is kind of intriguing and not at all surprising (to me):
men appeared to have greater access to equipment needed for research and to clerical support, the report said.
I bet that many women faculty can relate to the situation in which male colleagues receive various types of clerical support but we females are expected to do these things ourselves (e.g., retrieving, filling out, submitting forms).
And, to end this list on an encouraging note:
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.
Too bad for us full professors but at least our younger female colleagues will come through the system without this problem.
These reports keep on coming. Some show encouraging signs (women who come up for tenure fare as well as men), but also contain disturbing news (women are underrepresented as candidates for tenure). Best of all would be if the reports themselves generate positive action on the issues that clearly need attention.
10 months ago