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.