The 1999 report, A Study on the Status of Women Faculty in Science at MIT, created a new level of awareness of the special challenges faced by female faculty in the sciences. Although not the first examination of the treatment of female faculty, this report marked an important historical moment, igniting interest in the difficulties experienced by many women, particularly those at the higher levels of academia. Since the release of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology report, many other institutions have studied equity issues regarding their faculty, and several have publicly pledged to use their resources to correct identified disparities. Although academic departments, institutions, professional societies, and others have paid more attention to the topic in the past 10 years, there has been concern that remedial actions have approached a plateau.
Unquestionably, women’s participation in academic science and engineering (S&E) has increased over the past few decades. In the 10 years prior to the start of this study, the number of women receiving Ph. D.s in science and engineering increased from 31.7 percent (in 1996) to 37.7 percent (in 2005). The percentage of women among doctoral scientists and engineers employed full-time, while still small, rose from 17 percent in 1995 to 22 percent in 2003. However, women continued to be underrepresented among academic faculty relative to the number of women receiving S&E degrees. In 2003, women comprised between 18 and 45
percent of assistant professors in S&E and between 6 and 29 percent of associate and full professors.
The evidence for disparities in the treatment of women and men is mixed. In some cases (e. g., with regard to salaries), there are strong quantitative data. In other cases (e. g., marginalization), the evidence is more anecdotal. Still in other instances, the evidence is scant or missing. Assessing whether search committee members are biased in their evaluations of male and female candidates could be—and has been—done in essentially a laboratory-like setting, but there are no publicly available national data upon which to draw.