Monday, April 7, 2014

Cultural Change; Broadening the Metrics for Promotion

The UK's House of Commons Science and Technology Committee recently released a set of recommendations for promoting "Women in Scientific Careers". The report includes numerous useful references to studies describing the range of obstacles to recruitment and retention, as well as useful references to studies providing remedies and solutions for these obstacles. 

However, many found the report 'weak', particularly in terms of failing to address the structural changes needed in academia to tackle inequality. For example, women faculty at the University of Cambridge published a letter in the Times Higher Education calling specifically for changes in how academics are assessed so that women do not face disadvantages for taking on tasks in teaching, administration and public engagement, rather than research. The letter says that a broader set of metrics should be used to evaluate performance and determine promotion.

To quote Cambridge Professor Athene Donald, outspoken advocate for gender equality, "There will always be hardcore metrics for academics, such as grants, or prizes won, and books and papers published, and they are important. But there are opportunities to reward and embed different types of success, such as teaching, outreach and departmental support."

In "The Ivory Ceiling of Service Work: Service work continues to pull women associate professors away from research. What can be done?", the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) described policy recommendations to shift the service culture within academia. They wrote:
Cultural changes also matter. Deans and department chairs or heads need to examine teaching, advising, mentoring, and service responsibilities to ensure that all faculty members pull their weight and are rewarded accordingly. Department chairs should review service, teaching, and mentoring expectations with their department members and ensure that women do not disproportionately carry their departments’ service burdens. 
We also believe that cultural changes are needed to stress the value of the work of the professoriate more broadly. Too many faculty members and administrators devalue the importance of “institutional housekeeping,” even though it is crucial for the institution’s ongoing health. Universities need to recognize, reward, and publicize their faculty’s service, mentoring, and teaching accomplishments, in addition to their research accomplishments, and ensure that promotions recognize the wide range of contributions faculty make.
Valuing this work (and, importantly, including it in the metrics for reward and promotion) likely not only helps retain/promote women at later stages in their career, but assist in the recruitment and retention of early career women. Meredith Hughes recently published the results from the Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy (CSWA) Demographics Survey. In the latter half of the post, she describes the emerging trend that "as the representation of women in a department increases at one level, it tends to increase at other levels as well – and over the past 10 years departments have become more polarized in their representation of women... In 2003, there was no trend relating the fraction of female faculty to the fraction of female students and postdocs, but, over the past decade, such a trend has emerged in the data. While it is impossible to discern cause and effect from the simple data collected for our survey, it seems probable that whatever departments are doing (or not doing) to actively recruit, support, and retain women at one level is affecting women at other levels as well. Perhaps, with the increased number of women at all levels, it is more obvious when a department is particularly supportive or unsupportive, and therefore departments are becoming more polarized as women vote with their feet."


Jarle Brinchmann said...

While I think the sentiment is laudable and a good idea, I must admit this seems to me to be a terrible pitch for women. Alternative evaluation metrics is certainly desirable but to focus this on women I think is a really bad idea.

The way this could easily be read is that women don't do well on science based metrics so give them some brownie points for their other work. I think that really opens up the door for lots of problems. I thought the letter in Times Higher Education really did not come across well in that regard but maybe I am just being too pessimistic.

I personally think this particular point, evaluation metrics, should be argued on its own merits without making it explicitly a gender issue. That it would benefit women more than men if it were implemented is not really relevant - it is about having a fair assessment of peoples contribution to the overall astronomical community evaluated in a broader way than is normally done. Pitching it as a gender issue will just get the misogynists out of the woodwork complaining and I can't really see any benefit.

Anonymous said...

The purpose of the post was definitely not to argue for different evaluation criteria for men and women. That, of course, would be a terrible idea.

And it's not about 'brownie points for other work'. It's about recognizing, valuing, and including in metrics for promotion the service work (and all the efforts that fall under that umbrella) that men and women do for their department and professional community. It's about the very real impact on the field, the next generation of scientists in the field, and on your specific institution's and department's culture that this 'service work' provides.

But I don't think your comment argues against that. As you write, "it is about having a fair assessment of peoples contribution to the overall astronomical community evaluated in a broader way than is normally done."