Initiatives to increase diversity among faculty members—particularly in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM)—have prompted efforts to track university recruitment and retention of women and underrepresented minorities (URM). Three new US studies shed light on the issues, including salary and publication rates.
Female and Hispanic faculty representation in the United States increased significantly between 1992 and 2015, but more slowly for black and indigenous faculty members, according to a review study of personnel records from four large US land-grant institutions published in PLoS One . The small numbers of URM lack the data necessary to draw valid conclusions about retention. However, the study found, URM hiring is increasing, but not at the rate expected for the number of STEM doctoral degrees earned by the populations.
When it comes to faculty retention and time to promotion, women’s experiences are discipline-dependent. Women in engineering left academia, and left without tenure, more frequently than did men,—a discrepancy not seen in other disciplines. However, time to promotion from associate to full professor averaged 1-2 years longer for women than for men in biological, agricultural and natural sciences, where no such differences were found in physical sciences, maths or engineering.
A second study published recently in Educational Researcher finds not only that female PhD holders in the United States are less likely than are men to pursue tenure-track positions at research universities, but also that those who do pursue them publish less often than do men. Authors analyzed 1,285 responses to a survey seeking input on PhD programme satisfaction, including respondents’ scholarly output, given to recent PhD graduates from one large research institution. Follow-on questions focused on publications and obstacles to career goals. The study authors found that men submitted an average of 5.9 manuscripts for publication during their PhD programme, compared to 3.7 submissions from women. And more male students’ manuscripts were accepted or published than were female students’ manuscripts, with an average of 4.9 of men’s accepted or published compared to 2.9 for women.
While publication numbers are higher in engineering and physical sciences than in biological sciences or humanities, men consistently submitted more papers than did women across STEM-specific fields. Supplemental survey questions asked of a subsample of students revealed that men were more likely than women to report that faculty members encouraged them to publish, whereas women were more likely than men to say that a biased programme climate presented minor obstacles to submission.
A third study on US physicists found that female academic physicists’ salaries are 18% lower on average than those of their male counterparts. The as-yet unpublished survey was conducted by the American Institute of Physics (AIP) in College Park, Maryland, and reported in Physics Today, which is published by the organization. Of the 5,194 students who earned physics PhDs in 1996, 1997, 2000, or 2001 at US institutions, 3,419 were contacted in 2011 for a follow-up survey. Responses were received from 1,544. Accounting for factors such as postdoctoral experience and age, almost a third, or 5.7%, of the 18% salary difference is attributable specifically to gender, according to data analyst Susan White, assistant director of the AIP’s Statistics Research Center. The Physics Today report identifies two contributing factors: women do not negotiate as aggressively as men and men favour one another when it comes to recommendations, raises, evaluations or reference letters.
Virginia Gewin is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon.