Monday, July 1, 2013

Where are all the women professors? Among the recently hired!

I recently wrote a series of posts entitled "Where are all the women professors?" here and here. I began with a simple premise: "men and women are equally capable of succeeding as professional astronomers. There is no inherent (intrinsic) difference in mental capacity, creativity, ability to learn, or any other factor that plays into the success of an astronomer." From there I examined the role of unconscious bias as one of the factors in a "leaky pipeline" that has resulted in an underrepresentation of women among astronomy professors.

A commenter wondered, "What is the fraction of women hired on tenure track during the same time period as the statistics of the graduating students?" While the present representation of women among various astronomy faculty hovers somewhere around 15%, is there evidence that there have been improvements in recent years? The question stuck with me, but I wasn't sure how to assess it. However, the method recently became obvious: the Astronomy Rumor Mill!

The Rumor Mill is a fairly accurate accounting of the results from each hiring season (roughly Feb-Apr each year). While the short-lists don't always reflect reality, the final decisions, denoted in bold text, usually are. I went combing through the last three years of the rumor mill (previous years, before it was hosted by AstroBetter, are unavailable) and found the outcomes of 67 faculty searches at US institutions that advertised junior faculty appointments in either astronomy or astronomy-oriented physics positions (this was somewhat subjective in a small number of cases). Here are the statistics:

Number of men hired:          42
Number of women hired:        25
Percentage female (2011-2013) 37.3%

That's pretty impressive! As I noted previously, roughly 30% of recent PhDs over the past decade were awarded to women. These numbers are evidence the field has been hiring at a commensurate (or higher) rate over the past three years.

So while the current percentage of women on the faculty of various astronomy departments is much lower than the graduation rate of women, there is evidence over the past three years that the systematic biases in past hiring are being corrected. This is very good news for the field. What will be interesting to see is whether these newly hired women professors earn tenure at the same rate as their male colleagues.

There were many other interesting features in the statistics of recent hires. I recorded the PhD institution of each hired individual. Harvard grads where hired at the highest rate, making up 8 (12%) of the 67 hires. Next was the Princeton cohort, which made up 6 (9%) of all recent hires, followed by Berkeley (7.5%), and OSU (6%). Then came Caltech, Hawaii, UCLA , Washington and Arizona (3 [4.5%] each). Graduates from these 9 institutions made up 57% of all hires in the past three years. (Keep in mind that comparisons among these institutions is difficult since the sizes of their grad programs vary quite a bit. Harvard has the largest number of hired graduates, but it also has the largest graduate program.)

The gender breakdown of hiring among these nine institutions is pretty remarkable: women make up 8 out 17 recent hires at these institutions. To my eye, this is a sign of significant progress. But there's also a way to go still. The faculty of those nine institutions comprise a total of 195 professors, of which only 35 (18%) are women, and a third of those women were hired in the past 6 years.

So I'd conclude that there's a lot of ground to make up, but that based on the statistics of the past three years, the field is making significant progress. And I suspect that that progress will be accelerated as more people come to value diversity as a integral part of overall excellence.


Anonymous said...

I have a question. When you say: "There is no inherent (intrinsic) difference in mental capacity, creativity, ability to learn, or any other factor that plays into the success of an astronomer" you give it for granted (for the sake of politically-correct) or there are scientific proofs for that? I see that you analyzed the biases, but not the direct evidences.
For example, I read everywhere that female students systematically score better than males at any level of education - therefore, it could even be that females are actually MORE successful than males once the biases are removed. I am totally neutral in this (as a scientist should be): I do not defend/support any gender, I would just like to know the answer (and excuse me beforehand if I did not locate it among your posts).

Anonymous said...

Just dong the math here. If those 9 institutions each hire one person each year and 50% of those are women it would take (97.5-35)/4.5 = 13.8 years before the number of faculty members are 50%. Of course this assumes that all hires are replacements and only men are replaced.

Even if all 9 hires are women, it would still take 7 years to equality, so this is indeed a slow progress.

John Asher Johnson said...

Good question! Not being a sociologist, I was forced made the statement axiomatically. In my original post on my personal blog (reference from this post), I wrote:

"I'm going to start off this first post on this topic with a simple axiomatic statement: Women and men are equally capable of being successful astronomers. There is no inherent difference in mental capacity, creativity, ability to learn, or any other factor that plays into the success of an astronomer."

It is my personal belief based on my prior experience that integrated over the myriad aspects of "intelligence" and "talent" that neither men nor women are more likely to succeed at any given mental endeavor. If you have evidence one way or the other, I'd be interested in reading more about it.

Anonymous said...

Self promotion plays an important role in any career, possibly even more so astronomy and academia in general. There may be no gender differences in intelligence, talent etc., but there are important factors for success that do exhibit genuine gender disparity (even if those factors shouldn't matter). Since it is almost always the candidate themselves who posts to the rumor mill, I would bet that successful male candidates are over-represented relative to female in the rumor mill.

Sarah Rugheimer said...

More related to Anonymous' last comment, one interesting article I've come across recently on the (lack of) gender differences is this one: Carothers, B.J., & Reis, H.T. (2012). "Men and Women Are From Earth: Examining the latent structure of Gender." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. doi: 10.1037/a0030437. Men are from Mars Earth; Women are from Venus Earth

Basically the study shows that from empathy and sexuality to science inclination and extroversion, statistical analysis of 122 different characteristics involving 13,301 individuals shows that men and women, by and large, do not fall into different groups.

I also try to keep a current list of research related to women in STEM on my website:

If you come across any, please let me know!

Andrew Baker said...

Alycia Weinberger went through this exercise 13 years ago. Here's what she wrote in the July 5, 2000 CSWA newsletter (

"To get an estimate of the relative employment success of men and women, I did a study based on the astrophysics Rumor Mill page ( I counted the number of faculty type offers made to men and women. There were 78 offers total (this counts every offer every time it was made. So, an offer declined by one person and accepted by another is counted twice). Of those, 15 (20%) went to women and 61 (80% went to men). Two went to people whose sex is unknown to me and about whom I couldn't guess based on their names. In 1998, 23% of US doctorates in Astronomy and Astrophysics went to females (see Appendix Table A-1 of "Doctorate Recipients from United States Universities: Summary Report 1998", available at I am the first to admit that the rumor page is hardly an authoritative source, but within the uncertainties, women seem to be getting jobs in proportion to their numbers in the field."