Women See Fewer Hurdles on Tenure Track

July 2009

Women See Fewer Hurdles on Tenure Track

Although women are still underrepresented in the applicant pool for faculty positions in engineering, math, and science at major research universities, they are more likely than men to be interviewed and hired, according to a new report. Women also are underrepresented among those considered for tenure, but those who are considered receive tenure at the same or higher rates than men.

The report, mandated by Congress and published by the National Research Council, examined six disciplines: civil engineering, electrical engineering, biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics. In all six, women who applied for tenure-track positions had a better chance than men of being interviewed and receiving job offers.

Women, however, are not applying for tenure-track jobs at research-intensive universities at the same rate that they are earning PhDs, the report says. The gap is most pronounced in disciplines such as biology, with larger fractions of women receiving PhDs. In civil engineering, women made up 18% of PhDs from 1999?2003 and made up 16% of applicants to tenure-track positions. In electrical engineering, the percentages were 12% and 11%, respectively.

"Our data suggest that, on average, institutions have become more effective in using the means under their direct control to promote faculty diversity, including hiring and promoting women and providing resources," says committee cochair Claude Canizares, a physics professor and vice president for research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Nevertheless, we also find evidence for stubborn and persistent underrepresentation of women at all faculty ranks."

Additionally, results of the two surveys on which the report is based suggest that strategies to boost the proportion of women in the applicant pool have not shown significant effectiveness. One strategy did appear to make a difference: Having a female chair of the search committee and a high number of women on the committee was associated with a higher number of women in the applicant pool.

Since the mid-1990s, women's participation in academic science and engineering has unquestionably increased. The number of women receiving PhDs in science and engineering increased from 31.7% in 1996 to 37.7% in 2005, according to the report. And the proportion of women among doctoral scientists and engineers employed full-time, while still small, rose from 17% in 1995 to 22% in 2003.

The report, says committee cochair Sally Shaywitz of the Yale University School of Medicine, is a "signal to both young men and especially to young women that what had been the status quo at research-intensive universities is changing."

Source: Gender Differences at Critical Transitions in the Careers of Science, Engineering, and Mathematics Faculty