Monday, July 13, 2009

Women Faring Well

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.


American in Oxbridge said...

I was really surprised you did not comment on this one:

"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."

I think that may be more relevant for those of us younger females in place, rather than any other factor. And surely it's something you've commented on before, in terms of climate in your dept.!

Candid Engineer said...

All in all, very encouraging news (except for the biologists).

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?

Anecdotally, I would say that my variety of engineering goes out of its way to hire women. Male faculty seem to be acutely aware of the added value of females in the department (if only for selfish dept-promoting purposes).

My grad department, without a female professor, sought desperately for a female faculty member my first two years in the dept. They did not want to be perceived as sexist. I have also spoken to a number of male engineering professors in the past few years who feel so strongly about hiring women that they are willing to do so in an affirmative action-type way (i.e. hire women who might be slightly less qualified than the male candidates). At the end of the day, female faculty candidates (as long as their resumes look great) are considered hot commodities on the job market in my field.

Anonymous said...

In answer to why women "take significantly longer time as assistant professors" wouldn't you say this could be attributed to women having kids? It's unfortunate but true that women who want to have kids will have kids as assistant professors which, in the end, will slow down their tenure clock.

Male Science and Eng. Professor said...

Call me MSEP. I have not read the full report either, but let me offer a counter-anecdote and an encouraging explanation.

a) Counter-anecdote: I sat on an all-male hiring committee last year, in a department that lies somewhere between Science and Engineering at a major research university. Women accounted for a tiny portion of the applications we received (not sure exactly, but say 10%). On the other hand, 2 of 8 or so applicants we considered interviewing were women, and the only one we tried making an offer to was a woman (I say "tried" since our offer was scuttled by mid-semester budget cuts).

From informal conversations, women applicants have a partial boost since in our university there are extra funds for hiring women faculty in certain areas. You can view that either as a discouraging qualification or a sign of enlightened administration.

If you're wondering why the committee was all-male: we had a female full professor initially on the committee, but she was too busy running a large interdisciplinary institute and had to bail from the committee before we even started reviewing applications.

b) A possible explanation: you mentioned that female *full* professors are underpaid relative to their colleagues. I don' know how the statistics were compiled for the report, but perhaps "full professor" is too coarse a category to really see what's going on. There is a big variation in salary between newly-minted full professors and super-senior super-stars who command truly enormous salaries. I would guess that the distribution of *female* full professors is skewed towards the younger, newer ones relative to the male population. That skew alone might account for the disparity, and so it may well disappear over time.

Of course, there are lots of other possible explanations for the skew: women are less pushy about negotiating on average, or simply considered less mobile (hence less able to negotiate) since many professional women have professional spouses.

Anonymous said...

Why would having children significantly slow down tenure for women? Women can work while pregnant and may take off a month or so after the birth, but that should not slow down receiving tenure THAT much. What about men with children? Why wouldn't it slow them down as well?

Female Science Professor said...

I wonder what is considered "significantly longer". I don't consider a year significantly longer, but maybe some do (?).

Ms.PhD said...

Yup, would love to see those numbers for biology. Last I checked, biology was actually WORSE, that's why they're trying to hide the data.

In theory we have many more women PhDs, but unlike in math, we have fewer women being interviewed or offered positions, not more. This is kind of embarrassing to some biology types.

Also, it seems a bit ridiculous to lump all of biology together as if it were one category. General campus vs. med school, nevermind departmental differences, can be huge. Biology can include everything from evolutionary to molecular to opthamology, depending on how you slice it. The pool sizes are different for all of those. And don't forget that unlike most other disciplines, biology faculty can include both MDs and PhDs, and that matters a lot, too.

Somebody should buy FSP (and me!) a copy of this report so we can analyze it completely!

Male Science and Eng. Professor said...

You can still call me MSEP. Anon. writes:

Why would having children significantly slow down tenure for women? Women can work while pregnant and may take off a month or so after the birth, but that should not slow down receiving tenure THAT much.

I hope the comment was meant to be facetious. In case it wasn't: having kids is time-consuming in a way that few childless professionals, or even male professionals whose wives stayed home with the kids, realize. Even with competent in-home childcare, the cost in terms of brain cycles and lost sleep is huge (it is roughly equivalent to moonlighting in a second job, one for which you are on-call 24/7). This is especially true for women who take on more than half of the child-rearing responsibilities (alas, the common case).

As the husband of a young FSP who had two pre-tenure children, I think that a year is not an unreasonable slow-down. You may question whether it is the university's responsibility to allow for such a slow-down, but I think that in the long term it pays handsomely: the U. hires faculty for their lifetime productivity, not just for the papers they will write in the first six years.

Anonymous said...

MSEP - yes, I know that children take a lot of time and can interfere with work, but you left off the last part of my comment:

"What about men with children? Why wouldn't it slow them down as well?"

In SOME cases women take on more than half the responsibility, but this is not as common as it once was. Many male faculty in my department take on just as much as their wives when it comes to caring for their children. I'm not denying that there are cases where men leave their wives to do all the work, but I doubt this is common enough to cause a delay in tenure among female faculty.

Hope said...

Thanks for addressing this, FSP. I wonder if you, or other commenters looking for more info/numbers, saw this slide?

The whole presentation can be found here. It also addresses the “women take longer on the tenure track” point and the impact of clock-stopping on both sexes who take advantage of this.

As for biology, the differences in the doctoral pool vs. those applying for tenure-track R1 positions surprised me. We see a similar trend in chemistry: a significant number of women in these fields are opting out of the whole tenure-track R1 jig after getting their PhD’s. Is it common knowledge that great career options exist in industry or elsewhere in these fields? And is it commonly acknowledged that you need a PhD for these jobs? I guess I’m wondering why we don’t see a similar trend in electrical engineering, where significant opportunities exist in industry, too.

Also, what about the finding that more women than men have mentors (57% vs. 49%)? Particularly interesting to me was the finding that female assistant professors with mentors were more likely to have funding: 93% with vs. 68% without; whereas for male assistant professors, the numbers were 83% vs. 86%. So for men, having mentors is either irrelevant or counterproductive when it comes to getting funding? Something’s not quite right there….

I agree that it would be great to have a copy of the full report. Universities should buy it and make it accessible via their libraries.

Kevin said...

"What about men with children? Why wouldn't it slow them down as well?"

Having kids does slow down both male and female promotion to tenure, and the University of California allows stopping the tenure clock for new children.
The synchronization of childbirth with promotion to tenure is more acute in females, since the probability of chromosomal damage soars with the age of the mother but changes only slightly with the age of the father.

I suspect that more male professors delay child-rearing until after tenure than female professors do, aided in part by a social tendency for males to be slightly older than females in modern marriages.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:31: I took an extra year to go up for tenure because I had a baby. I do hope that you are simply ignorant of the complexities of the baby-making process. Let me try to give you practical examples of how having babies will slow down even a FSP with a supportive husband:
1- infertility issues. Some of us deal with that (not me), and I'm told that the massive hormonal tratments are no fun
2- the first three-four months of pregnancy can be hell in terms of massive morning sickness, etc. Try teaching Ochem at 8 in the morning when the only thing you can think of is "where's the trash can"
3- most pregnancies at "advanced" (eg after 35) ages have some kind of issues requiring bed rest, limitations to travel, and in some cases hospital stays
4- giving birth is a major physical endeavor. I had a C section, and in theory wasn't allowed to drive for 6 weeks (but according to my chair was fine teaching after 2 weeks), let alone be active in lab. I did, of course.
5- nursing is time consuming and energy consuming. And alas, it cannot be done by daddy. Pumping is no solution in that sense. It is estimated that it requires about 600 Kcal/day. Do that for a year, and let me know.
6- pregnancy is a messy thing. I've had a happy-ending one (only some issues, baby one month premature), a miscarriage after the classic three months (major emotional disturbance to my work schedule, call me weak but...) and an other troubled one now. The last two events were right in the middle of a grant resubmission. Yes, my productivity is affected. In talking with my friends, all women with PhD in the sciences, reproductive issues are the norm in our group. Coincidence? I think it's a sum of advanced age and stressful jobs. When my OB put me on bed rest, I don't think she envisioned my writing a grant in bed.
7- then baby comes out, everything is well, but still, traveling for conferences and seminars (eg increasing one's visibility) is tough. Is it tough for men too? yes. But somehow my kid seems to take it in stride when the hubby travels, and to be heartbroken when I do. It does affect me bc I try to avoid unnecessary trips.

In other words, it seems to me that in any regular professional job one would be fine, a bit slower perhaps but fine. Friends of mine in industry seem to do better. But a 60-hrs week, poorly defined in terms of boundaries with home life, and stressful job is a problem.
To address that, certain universities have differentiated extension options for men and women. They call it "biological burden". My U decided to go for equal treatment in terms of extension, teaching relief, etc. to avoid discrimination. To me, to ignore the reality of the different impact of having a baby on a man and a woman is the ultimate form of discrimination and insult. But nevertheless, I am grateful that my U now does have a policy. I'd rather have some of my male colleagues get an advantage than not have protection for women. It is a problem though in terms of perceptions. The other day my chair pointed out how well a male prof is doing in spite of having a toddler, and how involved he is in the kid's care, and I can't help but thinking the chair is clueless.

Anonymous said...

I was not trying to undermine the difficulties of pregnancy, labor, and taking care of children. Sorry if it came off that way. I know it can be very difficult in some situations, but not all. My main point though, was that I doubt the reason tenure is delayed for women is due to having children, but of course I may be completely wrong. It is just my very small opinion from what I've observed.

The link Hope gave was nice because it gave a few more details. They did find that more women used the stop the clock policy than men, but they couldn't conclude for sure if this was the reason that tenure is delayed. Who knows. I guess we need more studies:).

Anonymous said...

'My colleague looked at me strangely and said "But there might not have been any qualified female applicants"'.

What a preposterous thing to say. Imagine his reaction if the situation had been reversed and you had replied to him, "But there might not have been any qualified male applicants".

Your colleague has earned himself one slap upside the head from me.

Not A Physician

Anonymous said...

"To me, to ignore the reality of the different impact of having a baby on a man and a woman is the ultimate form of discrimination and insult.... The other day my chair pointed out how well a male prof is doing in spite of having a toddler, and how involved he is in the kid's care, and I can't help but thinking the chair is clueless."

I too find that an insult to women. I work in a male dominated company and I see this all the time. When men have wives who have babies, they themselves get applauded by people around them for changing a diaper here and there. As if that makes their showing up to work so heroic. Whereas when women have babies AND still continue to work, whatever attention is either non-existent or else negative ("you can't count on her, she can't work late because she has to go home to her kids"). Why should academia be any different?

Anonymous said...

I am a tenured prof in an "out-door" biology department that is only 20% female, but that graduates 50% female PhD's. We bleed female faculty like a hemophiliac. The main reason as I see it? Culture. Men do manly things, like out-door biology. Women, why women just make it look easy and un-macho. That's the general sentiment. So, while I'm great for University-wide advertising to show how "diverse" our department is, when it comes to within-department things, I'm never given responsibility or remembered, and my suggestions/comments are not infrequently belittled as "repeating what my husband said earlier" (which is NOT true -- my spouse and I disagree on dept issues quite a lot). Many of our female graduate students openly say that they wouldn't want to be a professor in our department. Yet, none of the male faculty seem to see this as THEIR fault... go figure.

Anonymous said...

Anon@5:38 - you and your husband are faculty in the same department? Wow what are the odds of that happening? (what with the Two Body problem and all) any case...I can see how this would be extremely infuriating, not only be constantly belittled and not taken seriously due to your gender, but in addition to always be in your husband's (of all people) shadow. But despite that, you achieved tenure?? That's amazing! well done!

Doctor Pion said...

A longer wait for tenure could explain much of the difference in those going up for tenure, in two ways.

First, the delay alone could encourage someone to seek a friendlier university, but it might also be done to be sure the case is as strong as possible if there are other factors at work elsewhere in the university.

Second, if the pattern is that most women are considered at the 6-7 year limit and most men are considered "early", spending 40% more time on the tenure wait would significantly skew the rate at which women go up for tenure.

Let's try it:
22 women that wait seven years means about 3.3 per year, but 78 men that only wait five years means about 15.6 per year. That would be about 3.3/19 = 17% of those being considered. A "significant" time delay would explain much of the difference in the rate of going up for tenure.

Anonymous said...

Along the same lines as Anon 5:38: Men in "out-door" biology are controlling the resources that grants and schools have paid for over the years, and they are systematically playing "keep away" with the women. This includes a range of stuff like research institutes, equipment, field vehicles and gear, boats, microscopes, computational facilities, space in the labs. I see it time and time again where the men refuse to share "their toys" with the women. This crappy attitude puts the women at a severe disadvantage, unless the women are willing to be their bitches (women do the work, men take credit and get authorship). The men have no problems hiring women as research associates and support staff but all hell breaks loose at the thought of a FSP using the same signout sheet as a MSP for the field truck, or a FSP using the "shared" facilities and not owing the MSPs something in return (as if!).

Departments full of pathetic babies would lose the manly vibe if more women were hired... can't have that happen! So they hire women at lower ranks to give the impression of parity, so the men control the toys and the people who use them.

Kevin said...

What a preposterous thing to say. Imagine his reaction if the situation had been reversed and you had replied to him, "But there might not have been any qualified male applicants".
Not necessarily preposterous. I've been on a search committee where the search was closed with no interviews because there were no qualified applicants of either gender. That particular pool had about 20 applicants, almost all male. It could easily have happened that the pool had one or two qualified male applicants and no qualified female ones. A couple of years later the search was redone with a slightly better ad, and we had excellent candidates.

Kevin said...

In my former department there were a couple hired at the same time. The female professor reached tenure and full professor before her husband did. Come to think of it, I think he's still stalled at Associate Professor after many years.

Perhaps what I've seen is unusual, but the promotions I've seen have been based on productivity, not gender.

Anonymous said...

Technically, when a women has kids the tenure clock is supposed to be stopped, not slowed down (at most US universities I think). That extra time should not be added up to the rest, and so I wonder if the statement that it takes longer for a woman to get tenure accounts for that or not.

Anonymous said...

I might be wrong, but I worked for a couple of years as a postdoc in a biology environment (coming from a materials science environment) and I remember being initially ab-so-lu-tely shocked by how aggressive and ruthless the whole environment is in Biological Sciences! Materials Scientists are angels by comparison and I am certainly glad I am now in a Materials Science department and not in Biology. Chemistry is pretty bad too, but not as bad as Biology. That might explain why it's tougher for women to get grants in such environment. I consider myself pretty tough, but I am not sure I could be succesful (or want to live) in such an environment.

Anonymous said...

At our University women on average take 6 years longer to be promoted from associate to full professor. In science women assistant professors are paid an average of 8k less per year (this converts to 15% to 20% less).