IV SUPPORTING WOMEN STEM FACULTY
How can colleges
and universities more effectively encourage and support women
faculty? How can women faculty most effectively work to achieve
institutional changes that would promote professional success
Associate Professor of Physics, Swarthmore College
Program Director, Analytical and Surface Chemistry, National
were college and university faculty, representing seven STEM
departments and every point on the academic career path (new
assistant professor to college president). Several had senior
administrative responsibility in the present or recent past
(department chair, associate dean of faculty, vice chancellor
for research, president, NSF division head), and thus brought
multiple perspectives and concerns to the discussion.
for the workshop, participants read several significant articles
on women scientists and academic careers. The workshop began
by asking participants to imagine a future when gender equity
is no longer a problem in college and university STEM departments.
The ensuing discussion focused on six characteristics of such
and departments strive for and achieve parity in hiring,
promotion and tenure. At minimum, parity means a percentage
of women on STEM faculties at all ranks equal to that of
women earning Ph.D.s, M.D.s, etc. There was not agreement
on what parity would mean.
- The atmosphere
of departments and institutions is changed: women would
not feel like they and their actions are under the microscope,
and their comments are heard rather than ignored.
- The tenure system
has more flexibility:
- Varied models
for a faculty members professional "life
span" (e.g. eras of research, eras of teaching)
- Varied hiring
agreements (option of fixed-term contracts rather than
tenure or nothing).
- Tenure system
that rewards achievements and contributions in more
- There are possibilities
for science and engineering faculty to re-enter the academic
workforce, should a leave for personal reasons be necessary.
and professional organizations demonstrate respect (in terms
of monetary reward, professional recognition, etc.) for
individual career path choices.
- Students and
academic professionals alike have information available
to them about different career paths within the academy.
All would receive training in "survival skills"
as graduate students/postdoctoral fellows (e.g. negotiation
skills for salary and start-up facilities) and as new faculty
(e.g. managing a research group, setting priorities amid
This opening session
led participants to focus subsequent discussion on tenure
and institutional/ professional climate, which they identified
as core issues in achieving gender equity for women STEM faculty.
with a discussion of obstacles women face in achieving tenure,
and possible alternatives to the current structure of academic
hiring and measures of professional achievement that lead
is a relatively short period of time and for many
women faculty, it coincides with childbearing years. This
presents a formidable barrier for many women, who may reject
the academic career path on these grounds alone.
- What is tenure
about? It is about academic freedom, but many argued that
it is not absolutely essential. The "up-or-out"
moment is extremely brutal.
explored alternatives that would enable women to pursue
academic careers in a variety of ways.
- Give the
faculty member the choice to come up for tenure or work
on renewable contract.
a shorter tenure clock that sets different criteria
for evaluation (minimal sufficiency at present, significant
weighting of long-term promise).
the option of a 10-year clock. Faculty would begin positions,
then choose either the current six-year clock to tenure
or 10-year terminal appointment.
- Many faculty
are asked to do too much. Overload (research proposals,
papers, course loads, even startup companies) in a very
competitive atmosphere can ultimately be detrimental to
many good scientists male and female.
- Two professional
tracks already exist in a number of universities: a research
track and a teaching track. This division is often gendered.
At many such institutions, faculty can in theory move between
these tracks at different phases of their career. In practice,
however, once one has chosen one of these tracks, one is
recommended concrete action plans for individual institutions
to improve tenure success among women STEM faculty within
the current system of academic hiring and promotion.
- Junior faculty
should be provided with the means to gather information
about tenure from inside and outside their institution:
institutions should set up a mentoring program to pair
senior and junior women. Department chairs and the dean
should meet with them on a regular basis.
professional organizations should offer tenure workshops
by discipline and across the disciplines (through the
auspices of an organization such as the American Association
for the Advancement of Science).
- Mentoring must
be institutionalized. All junior faculty should be mentored.
Mentors should be chosen selectively by deans, provosts
or presidents. Individual institutions should recognize
mentoring (e.g. Penn State presents an award to the best
mentor among senior faculty).
- An individual
institution might sponsor an annual mentoring program for
faculty to provide mentoring, train mentors and recognize
notable mentors. Mentoring is needed at all levels
mentoring "down," mentoring "up" and
EDGE (Enhancing Diversity in Graduate Education), a program
developed by Bryn Mawr and Spelman Colleges to enhance the
success of new women graduate students in math, is a notable
example of discipline-specific mentoring (see http://www.brynmawr.edu/Acads/Math/edge/edgesum.html).
Mentoring through graduate school and through the tenure
period will be added to the program with the aid of recent
grants from NSF and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
- Senior faculty
must protect junior faculty from too much service.
should explore the possibility of flexible trajectories
toward tenure. Note: significant differences of opinion
on this issue existed among participants.
the following concrete steps that can be taken now to improve
institutional and professional climates for women.
- Gender equity
can not remain an issue of the minority. Women must involve
men in the planning stages of all projects, and should encourage
men to be active participants in events and initiatives
focused on gender and institutional climate. More broadly,
women concerned about gender equity need to formulate ways
to talk to all skeptics about gender equity issues
women and men so as to have a demonstrable effect
climate issues might be addressed by a faculty task force,
one with equal numbers of men and women.
- Advocates of
gender equity should identify those within the institution
and the STEM departments/colleges whose voices carry weight
and work to engage these individuals in dialogue. Those
responsive to climate concerns should be drawn into planning
and implementation of policy.
- Provosts and
deans should institute rewards and awards for improving
climate (e.g. hiring and retaining more women and underrepresented
minority group members in STEM departments).
must provide opportunities for women STEM faculty to develop
leadership skills and serve in leadership positions. Women
faculty should enlist the active support of existing women
academic leaders to support efforts to improve climate.
- Mentor and peer
networks among women STEM faculty should actively support
individual women in protests/appeals related to gender equity.