Progress continues for women faculty, but gradually

Oct 05, 2012 by Hellen Hom-diamond

(Phys.org)—When professor and astrophysicist Priya Natarajan read the recent Yale study on gender bias in academic research among scientists, she was surprised­—but not completely.

"My first response was that it's disappointing, but not shocking," says Natarajan of the study, which was co-authored by her Yale colleague Jo Handelsman. " is alive and well, even in the sciences, where we tend to believe that the scholarship can be evaluated objectively."

As a graduate student at Cambridge and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (MIT) she knew well some of the challenges women in the , technology, engineering and math (STEM) face. Despite her own positive experience, she was aware of a number of her who chose not to pursue advanced degrees in Physics due to lack of encouragement or mentoring that could have made a difference in their decision.

"Sadly, many of the findings of this study resound with female scientists," comments Natarajan. "What was most surprising, however, is that women are less likely to be mentored. Perhaps this can be attributed to the perception of a cultural bias against women:  If women are less likely to become top scientists because their work is less valued generally, then mentoring women might become a less compelling proposition. This is a vicious cycle that needs to be broken and can be broken with awareness of our inherent biases."

Today, as the chair of the Women Faculty Forum (WFF), Natarajan finds herself in a unique situation—one that can help bring about positive progress for women on campus. As it has for the past 11 years, the WFF will continue to sponsor projects and initiatives that help women navigate the pressure points of their academic careers, broaden their profile as leaders, and expand their influence.

One such project currently underway is the first "side-step" mentoring program for women, which pairs 40 junior with 40 senior female faculty members from varying disciplines and fields. By matching pairs from different backgrounds, the goal of the program is to facilitate nurturing relationships, in a less formal professional context, without the dynamic Natarajan calls the "like-with-like" bias.

"People tend to gravitate towards mentoring those who look like themselves," Natarajan remarks. "Often this bias is unconscious."

Changing the culture where such biases are present is a gradual process, she adds. The WFF recently released a report called "Women, Men, and Yale University:  A View from 2012," which documents the number of female and minority faculty members at Yale, by categories such as tenure track, schools, and administrative positions over the past decade. WFF post-doctoral research associate Dr. Allison Tait compiled the data provided by Yale's Office of Institutional Research.

According to the report, women faculty and administrators have made progress, but slowly so. Over the past decade, there has been a 7% increase in female ladder faculty members, a 4% increase in non-ladder faculty, and a 5% increase in women postdoctoral trainees.  Female managerial and professional staff representation remains high at 64%—the same as it was a decade ago. Women now comprise 50% of University officers and a quarter of Yale trustees.

"In the last 10 years, we have seen a total of 7% growth in the number of tenured women in the University," says Natarajan. "While it's great that the gradient is positive, the rate is simply too slow. Being aware of the numbers is an eye-opening step."

Progress has been particularly sluggish for in the STEM fields. Women represent 11% of tenured faculty in the physical sciences ­and 19% in the biological sciences—a modest increase of 6% and 1% respectively over the past decade. This is in contrast to the Humanities, which experienced a 5% increase in female faculty from 25% to 30% this past decade.

"The WFF report shows that positive progress has been made, just not at the pace we would like to see," remarks deputy provost for faculty development and diversity Frances Rosenbluth. "This is one reason the WFF's side-step mentoring and other programs that encourage female faculty to promote their own voices and sharpen their leadership skills are so important. There is still work to be done."

One program introduced last year under former WFF Co-Chair Laura Wexler's initiative was the WFF's Public Voices Thought Leadership Fellowship, which was co-sponsored by the Office of the Provost. According to Wexler, the fellowship "aims to shift the way the world is narrated, by changing who speaks and whose opinions are published." Twenty senior female and minority male professors were mentored by top journalists in a seminar setting, for the purpose of increasing the likelihood of publishing their opinion pieces in national media outlets. By increasing the number of opinion pieces written by women and diverse faculty, the more public commentary starts to reflect a broader range of thoughts and opinions. During the course of the nine-month program alone, 32 opinion pieces were generated by participating fellows and published in outlets such as the New York Times, Huffington Post, and CNN—which last week published an opinion piece written by 2012 fellow Meg Urry on the gender bias study.  The WFF has sponsored the program again this fall, hosting 19 new fellows.

Also returning this year will be a conference on gender parity in society, which was co-sponsored by the WFF last year with the Gruber Program for Global Justice and Women's Rights at Yale Law School and the Edward J. and Dorothy Clarke Kempf Memorial Fund at the MacMillan Center. The conference titled "Parity as Practice:  the Politics of Equality," convened by Judith Resnik, Reva Siegel and Natarajan brought international scholars to campus to discuss the effectiveness and nature of parity programs, as instituted in areas such as education, government, and corporations.

Additionally, the WFF recently received a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for a study of gender parity issues at the University. In partnership with the Gender Equality Project, a non-profit based in Switzerland working with workplaces around the world to "close the gender gap," the WFF will launch an initiative later in the fall to develop a self-assessment tool for the University to measure progress for and minority . Details of the upcoming project are forthcoming.

Explore further: Why plants in the office make us more productive

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Marie Curie, go home: Science faculty study shows bias

Sep 21, 2012

(Phys.org)—A study published in PNAS shows that science faculty members, both men and women, need to bring up their poor grades in gender bias. The study. "Science Faculty's Subtle Gender Biases Favor ...

Report: MIT makes strides with women scientists

Mar 21, 2011

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has succeeded in boosting the number of women on its science and engineering faculties and in making the university a friendlier and more supportive place to work in the decade since ...

Encouraging more women in science and technology

Aug 18, 2005

Specific strategies to overcome bias In order to remain technologically and scientifically competitive in an increasingly global society, the United States needs all the brainpower it has. Currently however, a significan ...

Women in science? Universities don't make the grade

Sep 29, 2011

Despite years of trying to improve the number of women undergraduates in science and engineering, a new study shows most universities are failing. Not only are women lagging behind their male classmates, efforts to close ...

Recommended for you

Modern population boom traced to pre-industrial roots

53 minutes ago

The foundation of the human population explosion, commonly attributed to a sudden surge in industrialization and public health during the 18th and 19th centuries, was actually laid as far back as 2,000 years ...

Researcher looks at the future of higher education

56 minutes ago

Most forecasts about the future of higher education have focused on how the institutions themselves will be affected – including the possibility of less demand for classes on campus and fewer tenured faculty members as ...

Now we know why it's so hard to deceive children

2 hours ago

Daily interactions require bargaining, be it for food, money or even making plans. These situations inevitably lead to a conflict of interest as both parties seek to maximise their gains. To deal with them, ...

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

magia_salcido
5 / 5 (1) Oct 08, 2012
I thought women in the science would be more awake about what this feminist argument is and how feminist use the victim visage to gain favors.. This is ashamed and disappointing.
ValeriaT
not rated yet Oct 08, 2012
The bare fact is, women have minimal interest about technical sciences, computer programming, construction of electronics etc. It's clearly visible from autoships of articles and blogs over the whole web, photos from developer conferences, etc. The attempts for compensation of this ignorance with feminist quotas is the similar nonsense and social engineering like the sponsoring the black people for playing chess.
Deathclock
not rated yet Oct 08, 2012
The fact that most of our society uses a book that contains the following as a model to live their life doesn't help any:

"Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law."
Deathclock
not rated yet Oct 08, 2012
Oops, forgot a part:

"If they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in church."