Conscious efforts to end unconscious bias: why women leave academic research.

Author:Easterly, Debra M.


...As profound as the transformation of America's consciousness has been during the past 150 years, hidden assumptions about sex and gender remain embedded in cultural discourses, social institutions, and individual psyches that invisibly and systemically reproduce male power in generation after generation. I call these assumptions the lenses of gender. Not only do these lenses shape how people perceive, conceive, and discuss social reality, but because they are embedded in social institutions, they also shape the more material things--like unequal pay and inadequate day care--that constitute social reality itself. The purpose of this book is to render those lenses visible rather than invisible, to enable us to look at the culture's gender lenses rather than through them... (p. 1)

Sandra L Bem (1993). The lenses of gender: Transforming the debate on sexual inequality. New Haven: Yale University Press.

The education and empowerment of women throughout the world cannot fail to result in a more caring, tolerant, just and peaceful life for all.

Aung San Suu Kyi, Burmese-Myanmarese dissident and politician; Leader of National League for Democracy, Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Despite many years of work to minimize gender bias in the workplace, women researchers often "disappear" alter about a decade in academia. This phenomenon continues to occur despite near parity of applicants, matriculating students and graduates in American medical schools (AAMC, 2008), and (beginning in 2000) nearly equal numbers of men and women earning science and engineering bachelor's degrees (NSF, 2007). This disappearance happens despite the fact that in 2006 women earned almost half (45%) the doctorates in the science and engineering fields (NSF 2009), and nearly the same as men in the natural sciences (Handelsman et al., 2005). This increase has continued since 2006 and is true today (NSF. 2010). The increased number of female students and doctoral recipients directly correlates with the number of women who serve as faculty in institutions of higher education, albeit at certain ranks and at certain types of institutions. Although the number of female assistant professors--and, in some disciplines, associate professors--is becoming equal to that of men, women are not attaining full professorships or upper administrative positions as often as men (Touchton, 2008). Why is this happening? This paper will review women's departure from academia and offer ways to re-attract them.

The Problem

Women are Leaving Academic Research

According to a recent report from the National Science Foundation, "growth in the number of female doctorate recipients (6.9%) was greater than growth in male doctorate recipients (6.2%)" (Falkenheim & Fiegener, 2008). Between 1979 and 2005, the percentage of master's degrees earned by women increased from 49% to 59%; during the same time period, the percentage of doctoral degrees awarded rose from 30% to 49% (NCES, 2007). In 2008-09 women for the first time were awarded a greater percentage of doctoral degrees (50.4%) than men (Bell, 2010).

The National Study of Postsecondary Faculty (NCES, 2007) found that in 2004, 57.5% of the faculty and instructional staff were male and 42.5% were female. Males accounted for 13.6% of full professors, 8.6% of associate professors, and 8.1% of assistant professors; figures for females were 4.4%, 4.9%, and 6.6%, respectively (remaining percentages were divided among instructors, lecturers, and those with no rank). According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES, 2000), in 1997 16% of female faculty at degree-granting institutions had attained the rank of professor, a number that by 2005 had decreased to 15%. White (2005) examined the status and ranks of women at several research universities and confirmed that the number of female professors bad not increased from 2000 to 2005. White observed that "Real progress in creating gender equity in the future will require acknowledging the gendered state of our current workplace" (p. 22). Institutions of higher education today remain gendered institutions, with males holding the majority of professorships and upper administrative positions, such as president and provost.

While more women are attending college and earning terminal degrees, statistics reveal that women are not advancing or continuing in academia at the same rate as men (West & Curtis, 2006; InterAcademy Council, 2006; Xu, 2007). It is important to comprehend how this fact affects universities and what can be done to halt this departure from academia.

Why should a research administrator (RA) be concerned? It is important to understand the issues that faculty in higher education face as researchers and instructors. Pogatshnik (2008) and Robinson (2008) linked the RA's knowledge of faculty needs with the ability to help them attain the goals of successful research programs.

A successful RA is concerned with more than just compliance with the most recent policies from NSF, changes on, or modifications to Office of Management and Budget Circular A-21 (Cost Principles for Educational Institutions). Being a good RA means possessing the people skills to work effectively with researchers, administrators, and sponsor staff. In its mission statement, the Society of Research Administrators International (SRA, 2009) cites a dedication "to the education and professional development of research administrators working in varied organizational settings." SRA's emphasis on human interaction is echoed by the National Council of University Research Administrators (NCURA, 2009), which acknowledges that "Individuals involved in sponsored projects administration are faced with a multitude of challenges: becoming knowledgeable about federal regulations and individual agency requirements, providing assistance to facility (authors' emphasis), gathering information, administration of awards, and many other tasks."

A major function of the RA is assisting faculty with grant proposal development and securing funding for research. Professional RA organizations such as SRA and NCURA support these efforts by providing the necessary tools. For example, a recent NCURA book review addressed successful grant writing strategies (Gitlin & Lyons, 2008), while SRA routinely provides information about grant-seeking publications (SRA, 2009). Both SRA and NCURA annual meetings feature association and federal...

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