Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Why So Few? Department Climate and Culture II

The 2010 report entitled, Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), investigates the effects of college climate on female faculty in STEM fields. This chart shows the percentage of tenured and nontenured faculty who are women in selected STEM fields. First, we see that women make up a smaller share of faculty in engineering, the physical sciences, and computer and information sciences compared to the biological/life sciences (which is shown on the bottom of the graph). Second, we see that women make up a far smaller share of the tenured faculty in all these fields. This is significant because tenured positions are the more secure, higher-paying, and higher-status positions in higher education. Overall, there are fewer women in tenured positions in STEM fields than one would expect given the number of women earning Ph.D.s in these fields.


The Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education consists of over 130 colleges and universities that all participate in the Tenure Track Faculty Job Satisfaction survey. This survey is administered to all full-time, tenure-track faculty members at the 130 collaborative member institutions. The research of Dr. Cathy Trower focuses on the survey responses of faculty in STEM departments. She found that among tenure-track STEM faculty, women were significantly less satisfied than men with the departmental climate. Specifically, female faculty members in STEM were less likely to feel like they “fit” or belonged in their departments compared to their male peers. Why is this important? Well if you don’t feel like you “fit” or don’t belong then you are more likely to leave, and “fitting in” is important for getting tenure.

Trower recommends that STEM departments in colleges and universities focus on “fit” to improve female faculty satisfaction and improve retention. Departments should provide mentoring for all junior faculty. Mentoring promotes relationships between more senior faculty and junior faculty and can help junior faculty become more integrated into the department. Departments can also implement effective work-life policies to support all faculty members, but especially women, who often are responsible for the majority of care-taking and household duties.

Recent posting on improving department climate and culture:

Why So Few? Department Climate and Culture I

Affordable Suggestions for Department Chairs

Working Toward the Ideal Astronomy Department

Note: much of this text is from the AAUW ppt describing highlights of the Why So Few? report.