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National Academy of Sciences (US), National Academy of Engineering (US), and Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Maximizing the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering. Biological, Social, and Organizational Components of Success for Women in Academic Science and Engineering. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2006.

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Biological, Social, and Organizational Components of Success for Women in Academic Science and Engineering.

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Organizational Structure

The Role of Informal Organizational Structures on Women in the Health Sciences

Amber Barnato and Pamela Peele, University of Pittsburgh

Women in academic science careers often confront organizational structures developed to foster success among men. While these organizational structures may function well for men, they do not necessarily serve well the objectives of recruiting, hiring, retaining, and promoting the careers of women in science careers. Ample social research documents that women and men differ along many domains including their risk preferences, their career choices, and social interactions. Given this, it should not be surprising that the formal organizational structures developed to promote the success of men in academia are not optimal structures for women. We report on the impact of overlaying of informal organizational structures onto the standard organizational structure of academia on the recruitment, hiring, retention, success, and well-being of professional women in the health sciences. We implemented an informal structure that consisted of a core group of junior women health services research faculty at the University of Pittsburgh. This started with a group of three junior women faculty in 1997. From that group, it has grown to over 20 women in the health sciences across the University, most hired after the implementation of the core group. The informal structures in place provide women with a feeling of belonging and friendship which is an important aspect for the recruiting of new women. There is a robust information exchange over such topics as diverse as childcare resources and contract negotiations that allows women to easily observe the experiences of other women and to avoid common pitfalls facing junior women in health sciences. The core group provides several important functions including the endowment of new members with professional capital. An important development of this informal structure is a snowball effect that has produced several new auxiliary social groups that specialize in a variety of topics such as cooking clubs, book clubs, working mom clubs, etc. Each group is informally attached to the core group of research women and while the groups overlap to some extend, they are closed sets. The result is that as the informal structure evolves and expands, it creates mutations to serve the current needs of women in the health sciences while still preserving the core group. The informal structure has served to recruit, hire, and retain women in the health sciences, an effect that grows with the increasing robustness of the structure itself. Two of the most important elements of the informal structure include the rapid access to information and the championing of each other’s work. With a single e-mail request, women can activate the informal group to find necessary information from a nanny to accompany them to a conference so they can present their work to information on how someone negotiated their last contract. By the same mechanism, women in the group seem to have a high propensity to promote the work of others in the group. We are now beginning to apply some qualitative methods to investigate what the core elements are that allowed this mechanism to be successful when attempts by others to this have failed.

How Do Female and Male Faculty Members Construct Job Satisfaction?

Diana Bilimoria, Susan R. Perry, Xiangfen Liang, Patricia Higgins, Eleanor P. Stoller, and Cyrus C. Taylor, Case Western Reserve University

In this study we examine how a sample of 248 male and female professors at a Midwestern private research university construct their academic job satisfaction. Our findings indicate that both women and men perceive that their job satisfaction is influenced by the institutional leadership and mentoring they receive, but only as mediated by the two key academic processes of access to internal academic resources (including research-supportive workloads) and internal relational supports from a collegial and inclusive immediate work environment. Gender differences emerged in the strengths of the perceived paths leading to satisfaction: women’s job satisfaction derived more from their perceptions of the internal relational supports than the academic resources they received whereas men’s job satisfaction resulted equally from their perceptions of internal academic resources and internal relational supports received. Implications for leadership and institutional practices are drawn from the findings.

A Good Place to Do Science: Creating and Sustaining a Productive, Inclusive Work Environment for Female and Male Scientists

Diana Bilimoria, C. Greer Jordan, and Susan R. Perry, Case Western Reserve University

The purpose of our study was to identify and better understand the work environment factors that lead to the development, retention, and advancement of women faculty in a university setting. Thus, we conducted a case study of a top-ranked science department in a Tier 1 research university. The department, whose primary faculty consisted of three female and thirteen male scientists, had achieved a reputation for cooperation, advancement of women, and productive outcomes. Over a six-month period, we collected data using multiple qualitative methods including interviews, direct observation, and archival research. Inductive analysis of this data revealed five overarching factors and 12 subfactors that contributed to the cooperative, inclusive, productive work culture. The five overarching factors include a shared scientific identity; constructive interactions; participative department activities, inclusive department subprocesses and integrative leadership practices. We tapped existing literature to synthesize these factors into a process model of an inclusive, productive work culture. This study integrates several theoretical approaches to creating effective, diverse work groups into one model. Our work also highlights the role of member identity and types of interactions in building inclusive, high performing work groups across demographic differences. The findings also have implications for intervening in groups, departments, or teams as part of efforts to attract and retain a broader range of high quality scientists, including women and minorities.

An Integrated Coaching and Mentoring Program for University Transformation

Diana Bilimoria, Margaret M. Hopkins, Deborah A. O’Neil, and Susan R. Perry, Case Western Reserve University and University of Toledo

Higher education researchers and university administrators alike are increasingly concerned about the persistent dearth of women faculty, the overall glacial advancement of women, and the existence of a glass ceiling in academic science and engineering fields. The sources of these problems may be traced to individual psychological processes (gender schemas) and systematic institutional barriers, resulting in perceptions of a chilly climate for women scientists and engineers in academia (Sandler and Hall, 1986), the experience of subtle discrimination by women faculty (Blakemore, Switzer, DiLorio, and Fairchild, 1997), the slow but steady accumulation of disadvantage over the course of women’s academic careers (Valian, 1999), and the flight from academia by women scientists and engineers at every step in the educational pipeline.

Today, leading universities are beginning to undertake comprehensive remedies to address these problematic attitudinal and structural issues. Prominent within the approaches being implemented are a variety of coaching and mentoring initiatives aimed at helping women faculty succeed, particularly in the early and middle stages of their careers, and at helping key upper- and mid-level university leaders (deans and chairs) in changing the culture of their academic units. We believe that the combined focus of short term coaching targeted at empowering personal and professional development together with long term mentoring and sponsorship can help women faculty succeed in academia. Targeted coaching initiatives designed to assist academic decision makers such as deans and department chairs in understanding their roles in creating inclusive, supportive environments can also help curb the leaky pipeline of faculty women in sciences and engineering. In this report we describe the activities, challenges, and successes of a unique multi-level, integrated coaching and mentoring initiative at our university.

Up Against the Glass: Gender and Promotion at a Technological University

Cheryl Geisler, Deborah Kaminski, Robyn Berkley, and Linda Layne, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Despite increasing access to faculty ranks, women faculty members continue to encounter a glass ceiling when it comes to achieving the rank of full professor. At Rensselaer, we have been engaged in a research program aimed at documenting, understanding, and changing such differential patterns of advancement. Our work began with the development of a low-cost metric, the 13+ Club Index that can be used to monitor advancement in institutions and organizations. The 13+ Club Index examines the ratio between the percentage of women are 13 or more years past degree and have not yet been promoted to full professor and the percentage of men in the same situation. If the women and men at an institution in the 13+ Club are being promoted at the same rate, this index will be 1.

Our first project showed how this index can be used to monitor and change patterns of differential advancement. In particular, a study of the promotion patterns at Rensselaer completed in 2002 showed that women with 13 or more years since highest degree were 2.2 times than men more likely to remain unpromoted to the rank of full professor. Subsequent to the distribution of the results of this study, numerous changes, both institutional and individual, took place. As a consequence, by the time of our next analysis, two and one-half years later, 5 of the 11 women who had not been promoted in the original analysis had gone up for and received promotion. Overall, the rate of promotion for women at Rensselaer was more than three times the rate for men and the number of women full professors on the faculty doubled.

Our second project sought to understand the processes underlying differential patterns of advancement. A stratified sample of associate and full professors matched by school and gender were surveyed. Based on this data, we developed six profiles, and found that the distribution of men and women over these profiles was quite distinct. First, looking just at those who had been promoted to full professor, we found that women were more likely to fit Profile III (promoted to full after denial and with no advice or encouragement), while men were more likely to fit either Profile I or II (promoted on first try). Second, looking at those who had not been promoted, we found men were more likely to fit Profile IV (not seeking a promotion to full despite advice and encouragement), while women were more likely to fit Profile V (not seeking promotion nor were they advised or encouraged). Finally, we broke down the entire sample in the 13+ group based on advice and encouragement and found 8 of 11 males were advised and/or encouraged to go up for promotion, however, only 4 of 12 women were so advised.

Our research suggests three forces combine to challenge institutions working to improve women’s advancement. To begin with, it appears that whenever the climate at an institution improves with respect to advancement, men will benefit as well as women. Inequities between men and women can thus remain despite improvements in women’s situations. Next, pipeline issues are notoriously difficult to ameliorate. While it may be possible to reduce the rate of nonpromotion among women relatively quickly, reducing the flow of the pipeline into the ranks of the nonpromoted may be a longer term project. And finally, achieving equity in senior hires is particularly difficult. While processes can be put into place to insure a diverse pool of applicants, the pool of available women applicants at the senior rank is still limited.

Women in Academic Physics and Astronomy

Rachel Ivie, American Institute of Physics

One characteristic of the structure of physics and astronomy departments is that the representation of women decreases with each step up the academic ladder. Although women are about half of high school physics students, they make up less than one-fourth of physics bachelor’s degree recipients. Women earn about 18% of PhDs in physics, but comprise only 10% of the faculty. At stand-alone astronomy departments, 14% of the faculty members are women, even though women earn 26% of astronomy PhDs. In spite of this apparent leak in the pipeline, our data show that women are represented on physics and astronomy faculties at levels consistent with degree production in the past. In addition, there are only small differences in the dropout rate for male and female physics graduate students. Our data show that there are a few physics departments that have done an outstanding job in recruiting and retaining women faculty and students. There are also serious problems related to the structure of academic employment. For example, women physicists are hired as instructors and adjuncts at rates greater than they are hired into ranked faculty positions. The reasons for this disparity are unknown, but should be investigated.

Faculty Horizons: Recruiting a Diverse Faculty

Mary Ellen Jackson, Phyllis Robinson, Sarah Conolly Hokenmaier, and J. Lynn Zimmer

ADVANCE Program, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

The underrepresentation of women faculty in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields is a longstanding national problem. A 2005 study shows that female faculty in the top 50 research universities are underrepresented at all ranks, especially as full professors. The study also points out that underrepresented minority women “are almost nonexistent in science and engineering departments at research universities” and are less likely than Caucasian women or men of any race to be awarded tenure or reach full professor status (Nelson and Rogers, 2005). The University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), a research university committed to excellence and inclusiveness, received an Institutional Transformation Award from the National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE Program to address these issues. As part of this program, UMBC created Faculty Horizons, a two-day workshop focused on postdoctoral research fellows and upper level graduate students, particularly women in STEM fields, to provide these future faculty with the knowledge and tools necessary to build a successful career. In recognizing the national problem of the severe shortage of women from underrepresented groups in STEM, special attention is paid to including African American and Hispanic women.

Diversity in STEM Disciplines: The Case of Faculty Women of Color

Delia Saenz and Allecia Reid, Arizona State University

Structural, dynamic, and social factors preclude women from equal status, representation, and empowerment in STEM disciplines across the country. The confluence of racial/ethnic minority status and gender, and their concomitant impact, further exacerbate the lack of full participation and recognition of underrepresented women of color in these fields. The presentation will elucidate social psychological factors such as tokenism, stereotypy, and confirmation bias that play a role in inhibiting capacity among women scientists, in general, and women of color scientists, in particular. Research findings from an ongoing cohort study, funded by the Ford Foundation, will be presented. The research involved interviews, focus groups, and Web surveys at approximately 20 of the top PhD-producing, public, research extensive universities in our nation. Specifically, the research questions focused on institutional climate as perceived by both women faculty themselves and by institutional officials (provost, general counsel, affirmative action officers). In addition to providing comparative analyses of these varied institutional citizen perspectives, the data include examples of factors, initiatives, and practices that facilitate/inhibit inclusive excellence. The presentation will further identify critical forces at different levels of university functioning (individual, unit, institutional culture) that affect outcomes for STEM faculty. Some of these factors parallel those faced by underrepresented members of the academy across non-STEM disciplinary fields. Other factors appear to be unique to the STEM disciplines. Challenges and opportunities associated with differential levels of institutional diversification will be addressed. Finally, recommendations for ‘best practices’ that can be implemented at different levels of institutional functioning will be suggested. Among these are strategies that women belonging to both mainstream and minority populations can engage to promote their own success; cultural adaptations that can be implemented within departments and colleges; and policies and procedures, along with leadership imperatives that must be in place to achieve transformational outcomes. A model of interdependence will be invoked to conceptualize the current gaps in the academy, potential interventions (including educational programs for all faculty, staff, and administrators), and identification of critical goals for institutions of higher education, particularly in their role of inspiring knowledge acquisition and dissemination in the service of producing an educated citizenry. The significance of these needed changes stems not only from a current capacity perspective within STEM fields, but also from the reality of the student and workforce pipelines, and from the critical need to ensure national and global technological progress.

Copyright © 2006, National Academy of Sciences.
Bookshelf ID: NBK23766


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