This article is published in the January 2007 issue.

CRA-W Cohort of Associate Professors

National discussions on global competitiveness often overlook the role that diversity must play: we cannot expect our nation’s IT workforce to meet its goals if we fail to fully engage most of our population in that effort.

By failing to attract women, minorities, and persons with disabilities to IT, we are ceding our global position in innovation. Women make up the largest of these groups, and they are underrepresented in the workforce as a whole and at the highest ranks in particular. Women hold just 27 percent of professional computing-related positions and only 15 percent of board and executive officer positions in the top IT-related companies.1

In academia, they currently hold 14.9 percent of CSE faculty positions, but often these are the positions having lower pay, rank, and prestige. Women make up 26.7 percent of the teaching faculty, but in the tenure ranks they are represented in increasingly smaller percentages: 17.3 percent of Assistant Professors, 12.5 percent of Associate Professors, and only 9.8 percent of Full Professors. 2 The lack of women in the highest academic ranks is particularly distressing. These are the women who provide the teachers, role models, mentors, and “existence proofs” that female students need if they are to see careers in CSE as viable, and that male students need if they are to develop appropriately balanced views of female colleagues.

There is evidence that women face formidable hurdles in the promotion to full professor across all of science and engineering. A well-publicized 1999 report on the MIT science faculty 3, for example, found that women faculty often felt “marginalized and excluded from a significant role in their departments,” and that such discrimination affected senior faculty far more than junior faculty. Women at MIT were overlooked for jobs, paid less, given less lab space, and assigned the worst teaching loads. A subsequent meeting of leaders from nine major universities issued a statement recognizing that barriers still exist. 4

A more recent national report found that: “Women faculty are paid less, are promoted more slowly, receive fewer honors, and hold fewer leadership positions than men. These discrepancies do not appear to be based on productivity, the significance of their work, or any other measure of performance 5.” Speaking of science in general, Rita R. Colwell, past Director of the National Science Foundation, said: “We’ve lost some awfully good talent” because women “don’t see a level playing field.” 6

CRA-W aims to change these findings with a novel program called the Cohort of Associate Professors Project (CAPP). Since 2004, CRA-W has been able to run CAPP with the support of two NSF ADVANCE Leadership Grants. The goal is to increase the number of women in the full professor rank in computer science and engineering by forming and mentoring a cohort of women from the associate professor ranks. The cornerstone of the Cohort Project is the involvement of senior women, appointed as CRA-W Distinguished Professors, who actively participate as role models, mentors, and advisers. The project initially built a community of associate professors in research institutions, providing them with mentoring, leadership training, encouragement and ongoing peer-support activities. This year, CRA-W expanded CAPP to include faculty from the smaller schools and four-year colleges. Roughly forty participants attended each of our CAPP “kickoff” workshops held in 2004, 2005, and 2006.

The workshops consisted of two days of events. On the first day the Distinguished Professors led sessions related to promotion and building a leadership role in the computing community. Topics included Getting Promoted to Full Professor, Taking Charge of Your Career, Professional Volunteerism, Planning Sabbaticals and Remote Collaborations, and Time Management. There was also a one-on-one vitae review with the participants and Distinguished Professors. On the second day, each workshop included a professional development seminar. For example, this past year, Lee Warren from Harvard University discussed Strategies for Leading Change. The participation of the Distinguished Professors, the opportunities to network with the other Associate Professors, and the workshop content were rated highly by attendees:

“Although some aspects continue to be discouraging (seeing all the accomplishments of the distinguished profs and feeling they are out of reach), overall I find the workshops very empowering, and I have also made some great contacts with people, both distinguished profs and peers, that I would not have made without the workshops. I think the workshops have really helped my confidence and made me feel that I am not alone in the obstacles I face, and that they are surmountable.”

“After I got back from the workshop I left for a job interview on the next day. What I learned from the workshop helped me not to be afraid to negotiate. Even though the interview was not meant to be fore a full professor position and I didn’t plan to, I negotiated and was offered a tenured position with promotion to full professor. I owe this to the CRA-W CAPP team. Your effort didn’t go wasted.”

“If nothing else, the workshop inspired me to think about planning to go for full professor, rather than being comfortable in my post-tenure status. I have put my name forward to be considered for full professor in the upcoming P&T cycle. I don’t think I would have done that without the workshop, because I would have thought about promotion as something currently beyond my grasp.”

“It is great to have peers who are dealing with the same issues and to have the insights of successful women as a background for developing career strategies.”

“Attending the workshop has helped me to improve my assertiveness some. It was great to meet the distinguished mentors and other women in my field at the same career level, as I have often felt isolated at my own institution.”

“The CV review with a senior person was wonderful.”

“[I am] more confident and [have] higher expectations about salaries and promotion. I became more open about ways of improving. Some things are slowly getting better. I would have attended the workshop again. I am sure it helped me in theory and practice!”

CRA-W is currently engaged in an in-depth evaluation of the CAPP project, tracking the participants through the years, and will report on the results later. However, our study so far indicates that three participants were promoted to full professors last year. Although the number is small, the Taulbee Survey found only 11 women associate professors were promoted to full professors in 2004-05. Importantly, many of the CAPP participants are preparing for promotion in the near future.

Ultimately, we must increase the representation of women in the IT workforce, but despite numerous efforts progress has been elusive. CSE is, in fact, the only scientific discipline that has experienced a significant drop-off in the participation of undergraduate women in the past twenty years. Why have other sciences done better? The answer may be, in part, because of the presence of senior women faculty in other scientific fields who serve as leaders for young girls and women. Shirley M. Tilghman, the president of Princeton University, described it as “The rich get richer.” In her own field of Molecular Biology, she says: “There were great female founders in the field in the early 20th century who inspired generations of women, creating opportunities for women to thrive and reach National Academy of Sciences status. These were role models, catalysts.” 7 It is just such a “female factor” that is being strengthened by CAPP.

For more information on CAPP, see


1 National Center for Women in Information Technology, The 2006 NCWIT Scorecard, to be published, see, 2006.
Computing Research Association. 2004-2005 Taulbee Survey, Computing Research News, (March 2006). Available from
3 “A Study of Women Faculty at MIT,” The MIT Faculty Newsletter XI (4), March 1999.
4 MIT News, January 2001,
5 National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering and Institute of Medicine, Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering, 2006.
6 “Accomplished Women: Rita Colwell,” Howard Hughes Medical Institute Bulletin, June 2002,
7 “Accomplished Women: Shirley Tilghman,” Howard Hughes Medical Institute Bulletin, June 2002,

Mary Lou Soffa is Department Chair and Owen. R. Cheatham Professor of Computer Science at the University of Virginia. Mary Jane Irwin is Evan Pugh Professor and A. Robert Noll Chair in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at Penn State University.

CRA-W Cohort of Associate Professors