Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Leaky Pipeline

There have been a spate of articles recently about the women who leave academic science between graduate school and obtaining tenure.

In the Chronicle of Higher Education's ChronicleCareers, Robert Drago writes about "Harvard and the Academic Glass Ceiling", pointing out that while women may be "taking faculty positions in record numbers", most of the jobs are non-tenure track adjunct faculty positions.

Adjunct faculty members are mainly hired to teach numerous courses for a pittance. They have neither the time nor the resources needed for the sort of path-breaking research that led Faust to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and eventually to the Harvard presidency. Indeed, in seminars on balancing work and family life that I have given at dozens of major universities, including Harvard, I have never met a contingent faculty member who moved onto the tenure track, although I am certain a few must exist somewhere.

In part this is because of different expectations about the role of men and women will play outside the workplace.
As I argue in Striking a Balance: Work, Family, Life (Dollars & Sense, 2007), norms surrounding our ideas about motherhood and ideal workers provide an explanation. The former leads us to expect women to bear and rear children, to take care of the ill, elderly, and those with disabilities, and to do so for low or no pay, and without public recognition.

In contrast, as Summers suggested, ideal workers exhibit extreme levels of commitment to career, and work long days, with late nights and weekends at the office, and with 24/7 availability. Ideal workers are lauded, promoted, and paid lavishly; the long hours that mothers pull are ignored, except for the occasional box of chocolates.

He suggests that a "half time tenure track", already adopted by some universities, might be part of the solution.

Kay Steiger is writing a three-part series on "How the tenure process discriminates against female professors" for Campus Progress.

Part 1: Madame President: Why the new female president at Harvard is an exception to the rule.
Though Faust’s promotion is certainly a watershed moment for women in academia, her success comes amid continued underrepresentation of women on university faculties, particularly in the hard sciences. It’s been 35 years since Congress passed Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, which makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex in any educational program or activity that receives federal funding, including at private institutions. But although women now make up 56 percent of Harvard’s undergraduate population and are predicted to earn more than 60 percent of the university’s master’s degrees and nearly half of doctoral degrees by 2010, only 20 percent of full professors at Harvard are female, according to a study by the American Association of University Professors on gender indicators in higher education. In 2004, which was during Summers’ presidency, only four of the 32 faculty members offered tenure were female.

Part 2: Mommy Tracked points out that women not only have to work harder to balance family and work, but are often expected to do more than their male colleagues.
The AAUW report describes Margaretta Lovell’s struggle at University of California–Berkeley. Lovell protested that female faculty members are often asked to do a greater proportion of administrative and service work than their male co-workers. Before women achieve tenure, they often don’t want to complain or speak up about such tasks to avoid “rocking the boat,” which, the report says, makes advocacy even harder.
Part 3 should be coming to CampusProgress in April.

NatureJobs published an article, Leaks in the Pipeline, which asks "Why do women remain curiously absent from the ranks of academia?", with a focus on the geosciences.
In the field, 42% of BS/BA degree recipients, 45% of MS recipients and 39% of PhD recipients are women. But only 26% of assistant professors, 14% of tenured associate professors and 8% of full professors are women.

The biggest barrier lies in the structure of academia. Women may hesitate to apply for tenure-track jobs because they lack role models among the upper echelons. We conducted focus groups of active, employed geoscientists, including students, and found that nearly half of the women participants seriously considered leaving the geosciences at some point in their career, as opposed to only one-third of the men. The reasons for considering leaving are strikingly different between the two genders: the top two reasons for women were family issues (caring for children or elderly relatives) and problems with advisers (mostly a failure to communicate). By far and away, the main reason males considered leaving was an uncertain job market — a distant second was a tie between difficult classes and choosing the wrong sub-discipline. We think that 'problems with advisers' is a barrier that can be minimized by training junior (and willing senior) faculty members in mentorship.

The authors, Mary Anne Holmes of the University of Nebraska and Suzanne O'Connell of Wesleyan University, propose several solutions including paid family leave, active recruitment of women, and extension of the tenure process. They are working towards finding solutions.
To help explore some of these professional and structural impediments, we are convening a consortium of geoscientist academics in New England. This NSF-funded endeavour has three components: a week-long retreat to focus on writing in the absence of departmental and domestic distractions; skills workshops on topics such as strategic persuasion and negotiation; and workshops for departmental chairs to learn about unconscious bias and ways it can be overcome. With attention to these details, we hope that the science faculty will look more like the student body in 2027.
The 2005 Association for Women Geoscientists report, "Where are the Women Geoscience Professors?" has more detailed statistics.

ScienceWoman responds with Why We Leave, listing the many reasons why both men and women (especially women) might leave the tenure track. There is some excellent discussion in the comments as well.

Suzanne Franks (Zuska) has an excellent two-part post on "Life as a Leak" (Part 1, Part 2). She points out that people often assume the problem is with the woman who leaves, rather than the system itself.

Leaking has the whiff of failure about it, and even though the leaky pipeline represents a system that is not working, a system that is failing women, somehow the stigma of the failure attaches to the women who leak, not to the faulty science pipeline. No matter the reason for a leak, it's always the woman's fault. She left because she just couldn't make it. Absent some incredibly obvious and totally egregious, well-documented specific incident of bias and discrimination, if she had been able to succeed, she would have - but she didn't, so it's proof she just wasn't good enough. In some cases, an individual woman is so talented you can't ignore it, and she appears to have chosen the leaky path of her own free will. However, this just proves that she didn't have a strong enough desire and will to succeed in academia, and therefore she wasn't worthy of becoming a professor. She may have had the smarts, but she didn't have the devotion, so in that sense she just wasn't good enough.

Suzanne also points out that there are expanding career options for those with a science degree outside of academic research, and asks the question: are those who have strayed from the academic path still considered "scientists"? Very thought-provoking.

ETA: now Zuska has posted Life as a Leak, Part 3 .

Pat at FairerScience responds with What's a Leak?, noting that that leaving academic science because you found something else you'd rather do doesn't necessarily make you a leak.

I once had a fascinating discussion with microbiologist and former Radcliffe President Polly Bunting about this. She spoke of then famous people like McGeorge Bundy who had left science and went on to do other things. Her point was if you go on to have an interesting and successful career you are neither a failure nor a leak.

Female Science Professor posts on a couple reasons why women might be absent in the higher ranks of academia. She writes about "anti-mentors" who discourage young scientists, particularly young female scientists, from pursuing academic careers.
I hope that all the anecdotes and other reports about how women are treated unfairly do not discourage anyone who is passionate about science. It's still worth pursuing this career if you think that's what you want to do. It's worth pursuing it at a personal level, and it's worth it at a global level: the world will be a better place when there are more women scientists and science professors.
She also tells the depressing report from a really "old-fashioned" all-male job search committee in an unnamed European country.
- One committee member remarked that he was glad a particular female candidate included her photo on her CV because it was good to know that she is ugly, so he didn't have to have any qualms about disregarding her application.
It gets worse from there. She follows up with even more on the story.

The last is an article in the March 5 Boston Globe, "Barrier Breakers", about the Claflin Award. The $60,000 grant is given to women working at Massachusetts General Hospital who are trying to balance medical research and taking care of young children. The article points out that one of the difficulties that female scientists face is the need to generate career-establishing scientific data while raising a family.
A woman in her 30s is likeliest to bear children and also to be caught in the classic Catch-22 of academic medicine: She needs to win grant money to pursue research, but to do that, she must somehow build an impressive research record before she has won any money. All while she is still practicing medicine in the clinic.
The Claflin Award grant appears to make a difference in whether a female scientists with young families continue their research.

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Elli said...

I once attended a nursing school graduation where one of the awards was intended specifically for a nurse who had graduated with honors, WHILE raising a family.

Apparently, this past year a male nurse won the award. People groused for a bit ("ugh, his wife at home probably does all the work") until they learned he was a single dad.

If raising a family is recognized for the accomplishment that it is, a lot of the stigma will disappear - heck, it might stop being a "womens' job"