Differences and Commonalities with Other National Academies’ Reports
The committee has benefited greatly from three other National Academies’ reports on women in academic science and engineering. In 2001 NRC published From Scarcity to Visibility: Gender Differences in the Careers of Doctoral Scientists and Engineers,”15 a statistical analysis of the career progression of matched cohorts of men and women Ph. D.s from 1973 to 1995, using data from the NSF Survey of Earned Doctorates and Survey of Doctoral Recipients. The 2001 report had a much broader scope than this one; it covered employment outside academia; all science and engineering disciplines including the social sciences; and (within academia) all types of higher education institutions and faculty positions. It relied on longitudinal data on the same individuals collected over time, rather than a snapshot of faculty and departments at a single point in time. While it is not possible to draw direct comparisons between the data in the two reports, some of the 2001 findings on women’s participation in academia provide a useful backdrop:
• Men hold a 14 percent advantage in tenure-track positions.
• Women are underrepresented in senior faculty positions at Research I institutions.
• At any professional age, men are more likely than women to hold tenure.
• Women are less likely to be full professors than are their male counterparts.
The 2005 NRC report, To Recruit and Advance: Women Students and Faculty in U. S. Science and Engineering,16 identifies the strategies that higher education institutions have employed to achieve gender inclusiveness, based on case studies of four successful universities. Concluding that women face “challenges that may lead to their attrition at key junctures in higher education” and that “female faculty appear to advance along the academic career pathway more slowly than males,” the 2005 report identifies successful strategies for recruitment and retention of women undergraduate and graduate students, recruitment and advance –   ment of women faculty, and advancement of women faculty into administrative positions.
A third report, Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering, was released in 2006. Appointed under the aegis of the Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (COSEPUP), this study committee was charged to “review and assess the research on sex and gender issues in science and engineering, including innate differences in cognition, implicit bias, and faculty diversity” and to “provide recommendations to guide faculty, deans, department chairs, other university leaders, funding organizations, and government agencies in the best ways to maximize the potential of women science and engineering researchers.”
Beyond Bias and Barriers examines the results of recent research on gender differences in learning and performance—particularly cognitive, biological, and sociocultural differences that address the educational pathways to becoming faculty. It lists 11 common beliefs about women in science and engineering and presents evidence refuting them. Based primarily on existing data and the committee’s expertise, it identifies barriers that women face in academia and calls for action by university leaders, professional societies, federal agencies, and Congress to “transform institutional structures and procedures to eliminate gender bias.”
The COSEPUP report is significantly broader in scope than this report. It covers faculty from all fields of sciences and engineering (including the social sciences) and encompasses the full range of academic institutions. It addresses the overall mobility of women in academia, as well as the specific concerns of minority women. And based on an assessment of the underlying causes of gender discrepancies in academia, it provides broad policy recommendations for changes at higher education institutions.
In contrast, and following COSEPUP’s recommendation for new and accurate information, this report examines the experiences of a specific set of faculty and departments in six disciplines in a particular type of institution (Research I), based primarily on data collected in 2004 and 2005. Rather than an overview of career paths, our examination is limited to a snapshot of key transition points in academic careers that are under the control of the institutions (hiring, institutional climate and resources, tenure, and promotion). It highlights many striking differences among the disciplines that make generalizations across science and engineering difficult. The findings and recommendations here are a direct result of the data from our two surveys, which were not available to the COSEPUP committee.
Given the differences in scope and approach, it is not surprising that some of the findings of the two reports differ. While both committees found that women are underrepresented in academic science and engineering, the survey findings presented here indicate that at many critical transition points in their academic careers (e. g., hiring for tenure-track and tenured positions and promotions), women appear to have fared as well as or better than men in the disciplines and type of institutions (Research I) studied. The survey data show that female and male faculty have had comparable access to many types of institutional resources (e. g., start-up packages, laboratory space, and research assistants), in contrast to the COSEPUP committee’s general findings that “women who are interested in science and engineering careers are lost at every educational transition” and that “evaluation criteria contain arbitrary and subjective components that disadvantage women.”
Like the COSEPUP committee, however, this committee found evidence of the overall loss of women’s participation in academia, even though many of the actual transition points under the control of institutions (like interviewing, hiring, and promoting) do not show evidence of a loss. The loss is most apparent in the smaller fraction of women who apply for faculty positions and in the attrition of female assistant professors before tenure consideration. The former is especially apparent in the fields of chemistry and biology, where the number of female applicants for faculty positions in Research I institutions is much lower than the number of women doctorates in the pool. Unfortunately, our surveys do not shed light on why women fail to apply for faculty positions or why (or if) they leave academia between these critical transition points. Similarly, the reports agree that there are gender differences in time in rank, but we do not have any causal evidence as to why this is so.
The findings in both reports underscore the fact that our work is not done. Further research is needed, along with continued efforts to increase the number of women faculty in many disciplines and at key points in academic careers.