The Tenure Gender Gap
A National Academies report published this week discussing the gap between women and men in science academia is getting decent press in the national media. Both Newsweek and the New York Times have pieces covering the Academies’ report “Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering.
Both articles make the key point from the report: while women are getting a larger percentage of the graduate degrees in science, engineering, and mathematics than in the past, academic faculties do not reflect those gains. Women of minority groups are almost non-existent on faculties. Among the reasons given in the report for low numbers of women on faculties are: rigid tenure clocks, inadequate child care, and colleague and administration bias. The report also states that in order to address this issue, there must be widespread changes to academic departmental structure in order to address the problem and that the changes must start at the top.
The New York Times article Bias is Hurting Women in Science, Panel Reports focuses on the reports findings and states:
For 30 years, the report says, women have earned at least 30 percent of the nations doctorates in social and behavioral sciences, and at least 20 percent of the doctorates in life sciences. Yet they appear among full professors in those fields at less than half those levels. Women from minority groups are virtually absent, it adds.
The report also dismisses other commonly held beliefs that women are uncompetitive or less productive, that they take too much time off for their families. Instead, it says, extensive previous research showed a pattern of unconscious but pervasive bias, arbitrary and subjective evaluation processes and a work environment in which anyone lacking the work and family support traditionally provided by a wife is at a serious disadvantage.
The Newsweek article Science and the Gender Gap, which is part of a larger section on women in leadership, points out that this is not necessarily new information. The article states:
Though individual women may have understood what they were up against, there wasn’t much of an organized effort to change things until an August day in 1994, when a group of tenured female faculty members at MIT met with physicist Robert Birgeneau, then the dean of the School of Science, to press their case that there was an institutional bias. “It was really a singular point,” says Birgeneau, now the chancellor at Berkeley. Before that day, he says, it was easy to dismiss an individual woman’s career problems as the result of a personality conflict or problems in her lab. But after investigating their complaints, he concluded that the problem was systemic.
In 1999, MIT issued a groundbreaking report which showed that tenured women professors made less money and received fewer research resources than their male colleagues. The next year MIT’s president, Charles Vest, convened a meeting of administrators and scientists from 25 of the most prestigious U.S. universities who issued a unanimous statement agreeing that institutional barriers prevented women from succeeding in science.
Both articles are available online at Bias is Hurting Women in Science, Panel Reports and Science and the Gender Gap.