Women lag in reaching tenure

women-graph-pipeline
Photo by Antonia Woodford.

Yale has given tenure to significantly more men than women over the past decade, according to data collected by the Women’s Faculty Forum this spring.

The WFF found that women comprise 29 percent of faculty who received tenure since 2000 and remain at Yale, and this percentage rises to 37 percent among the humanities divisions and falls to 19 percent within science departments. Eight tenured female professors interviewed said they think factors such as unconscious discrimination against women have contributed to the gender disparity in tenured positions.

“[Yale] is pretty close in hiring [equal numbers of men and women] at the junior level, but when it comes time to recognize the women’s achievements as outstanding enough for the University to make a tenured commitment, it looks to me like unconscious bias kicks in,” said Laura Wexler, former chair of the WFF and a professor of American studies and women’s, gender and sexuality studies. “For whatever reason, women are not seen as fully equal, tenurable colleagues.”

While women hold 38 percent of junior faculty positions across the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, they hold 23 percent of tenured faculty positions, according to the data. Still, the data shows gradual increases in the number of women hired to both junior faculty and tenured positions between 2000 and 2012, the period covered by the analysis.

Frances Rosenbluth, deputy provost for social sciences and faculty development, said she thinks the data indicates that women are “disproportionately” leaving academia before they reach higher positions, adding that “women often face negative stereotypes and sometimes even denigrating behavior.” She said the problem of women “dropping out” of academia is particularly evident nationally in the biological sciences, where women earn 53 percent of doctoral degrees but go on to hold only a quarter of assistant professorships in those fields.

A 2010 study for the National Academy of Sciences, chaired by Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity co-director Sally Shaywitz, found that many fewer women in science, engineering and mathematics apply for tenure-track positions than men, Shaywitz told the News.

Rosenbluth said expanding childcare options, particularly for women in the sciences and engineering, and improving the “climate” toward women on campus would help Yale retain female professors. She said in February that the University currently has five childcare facilities, which are filled to capacity, and would like to open an additional one near Science Hill.

Yale College Dean Mary Miller said Yale has made efforts to diversify its faculty, such as allowing deans to “press for the inclusion and consideration” of more diverse candidates when they review shortlists of candidates for faculty positions.

The University launched a faculty diversity initiative in 2006 that set targets for hiring at least 30 new female professors in the sciences and economics by June 2013, though as of earlier this year it lagged behind its goals. In an effort to provide junior faculty with additional support, the WFF began a mentoring group in January, which matches female junior faculty members with senior female faculty, said Allison Tait, a gender equity and policy postdoctoral associate at the WFF. Tait added that about 40 junior faculty signed up and received mentors.

Art history professor Carol Armstrong said she believes improved mentoring for junior faculty is particularly important since mentors can help young women perceive their potential as leaders and learn to “publish boldly.”

WFF chair Priya Natarajan, who collected the WFF data with Tait, said her analysis centered around the female faculty “pipeline,” which refers to how women progress from an undergraduate degree to a doctorate, a junior faculty position, and eventually a tenured faculty position.

If Yale had perfect gender parity, the pipeline would be flat, with equal numbers of men and women moving through the ranks of academia. The WFF found that the pipeline is nearly flat in Yale’s humanities departments until it reaches tenured positions. The pipeline diverges sooner in the social sciences and sciences, with a drop-off in the number of women hired to junior faculty positions and a second drop-off between junior and tenured positions.

Natarajan, Tait and female professors interviewed said they think unconscious biases in hiring and promotions processes, as well as issues that can lead women to drop out of academia such as inadequate childcare, currently inhibit Yale and other universities from achieving gender parity in the pipeline. They said the roughly equal numbers of men and women completing doctoral degrees represent progress from several years ago, particularly in the sciences, where women have traditionally been underrepresented. But they said the divergence in the number of tenured women relative to men is still disappointing.

Natarajan said Yale does fairly well in hiring male and female junior faculty members but that tenure remains a “pressure point.”

“However you cut it, it’s very clear that the tenure rate for men and women is not the same at Yale,” she said.

Physics Department chair Meg Urry, along with several other female professors interviewed, referenced studies that have documented the existence of unconscious biases among both men and women that can cause hiring committees to judge male candidates more positively than females.

She added that efforts to educate people on hiring committees about unconscious biases can help achieve gender parity in the future. For example, she said, studies have shown that having a discussion about what qualities a hiring committee is looking for in a candidate before conducting interviews can lead the committee to make a less biased assessment.

“There is a natural, well-documented, well-measured expectation that great scientists will be white males, because that’s who great scientists currently are,” Urry said.

The WFF collects comprehensive data on female faculty at Yale every five years.

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