APPROACH AND SCOPE. Approach
The committee interpreted its charge to include three goals: (1) to update earlier analyses with newer information, (2) to provide a more thorough understanding of the scope of potential gender differences in S&E faculty, and (3) to recommend methods for further informing or clarifying assumptions about gender and academic careers. Establishing causes for any observed differences, while an important task, was considered to be beyond the scope of the charge. For purposes of this report, science and engineering are defined as the physical sciences (including astronomy, chemistry, and physics); earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences; mathematics and computer science; biological and agricultural sciences; and engineering (in all its forms).
The committee understood the charge as focusing primarily on major research universities—known as the Research I (RI) or research-intensive institutions—for several reasons. First, the committee believed gender disparities, if present, are more likely to occur in these institutions. Second, findings for research universities are likely to serve as a good starting point for the consideration of gender disparities in other sectors of higher education. Finally, and most important, as is discussed more fully below, research universities play especially important roles in training doctoral students and future scholars and faculty.
Recognizing at the outset the need for new data, the committee conducted two national surveys in 2004 and 2005 of faculty and academic departments in six science and engineering disciplines: biology, chemistry, civil engineering, electrical engineering, mathematics, and physics. The first survey of almost 500 departments focused on hiring, tenure, and promotion processes, while the second survey gathered career-related information from more than 1,800 faculty. Together the surveys addressed departmental characteristics, hiring, tenure, promotion, faculty demographics, employment experiences, and types of institutional support received. In addition to results from the surveys, the committee heard expert testimony and examined data from federal agencies and professional societies, individual university studies (e. g., gender equity, salary, or “climate” studies), and academic articles. The survey is discussed in greater detail later in this chapter and in Appendix 1-4.
There is no question that academic careers vary significantly for both men and women, depending on the type of academic institution and the academic position, so the findings from these surveys may or may not be relevant to other academic appointments or institutions. While by no means exhausting the topic, the purpose of this report is to advance the state of knowledge on specific aspects of gender in academic science and engineering, while at the same time recognizing the study’s limitations.
There are many factors that play a significant role in women’s careers in academia that are outside the charge and therefore were excluded in the committee’s deliberations. These include, for example:
• Constraints of dual careers, particularly in geographic mobility;
• Access to quality child care;
• Impact of stopping-the-tenure-clock policies;
• Preference for part-time academic positions;
• Perceptions of isolation and lack of collegiality;
• Expectations regarding professional recognition and career satisfaction;
• Attrition along the academic career pathway;
• Disciplinary differences that either foster or impede these factors; and
• Other quality-of-life issues.
In particular, the report does not explore the impact of children and family life. While these and similar factors are beyond the scope of this study, they are significant in impacting women’s faculty career choices.
Also, incremental changes in the percentages of women with doctoral degrees and in postdoctoral positions do not by themselves result in commensurate changes in the numbers of women faculty in universities, especially at senior levels. Much more needs to be known about the careers of women scientists after and even during graduate school, as well as the many career paths they may follow that may lead them away from academia. This study focuses primarily on key transition points in academic careers that research-intensive institutions can control and influence. Substantial additional research is needed to create a more complete picture of women’s career paths (see suggestions in Chapter 6).
The study reassesses and extends, with newly collected data, results of prior examinations of gender differences in academia to establish the contemporary veracity of those conclusions and to document trends over time. The study moves beyond earlier analyses by focusing more directly on the role of three sets of factors thought to produce gender differences in academic careers: (1) institutional practices and procedures, including the hiring and tenure processes; (2) individual characteristics, such as the role of marriage and family in the academic career paths of men and women; and (3) the overarching, changing nature of the academic profession. Focusing on these factors, the committee reformulated the charge into a series of guiding research questions about academic hiring, institutional resources and climate, and tenure and promotion.
Academic Hiring (Chapter 3)
• Is gender associated with the probability of individuals applying for S&E positions in Research I institutions?
• Given that an individual applies for a position, does a woman have the same probability of being interviewed as a man?
• Given that an individual is interviewed for a position, does a woman have the same probability of being offered a position as a man?
Institutional Resources, Professional Activities, and Climate (Chapter 4)
• Do male and female faculty engage in similar professional activities?
• Do male and female faculty receive similar institutional resources?
• Are male and female faculty similarly productive in terms of research?
• Is the departmental/institutional climate the same for male and female faculty?
• Do male and female faculty have similar rates of retention and degrees of job satisfaction?
Tenure and Promotion (Chapter 5)
• Are similar male and female faculty equally likely to receive tenure?
• Are similar male and female faculty equally likely to receive a promotion?
• Do men and women spend similar amounts of time at lower and intermediate ranks?
To answer these questions, the committee relied on multiple sources of information, but especially on information collected through two national surveys of individual faculty and academic departments, described in detail later in this chapter. Chapters 3, 4, and 5 present the results of the statistical analyses of the data collected in the surveys during the course of this study. In a number of cases, findings from the current surveys differ from some of the positions put forth in the literature, as summarized in Chapter 2. Recommendations offered in Chapter 6 are based directly on the committee’s analysis of the survey data.