Liberal Education, Summer/Fall 2005
Is There a Global Warming Toward Women in
By Christine Hult, Ronda Callister, and
While global warming toward women in
academia (in this case a desirable trend) may be occurring
in some academic departments or institutions—most notably
in community colleges—the same cannot be said for many
colleges of Science, Engineering, and Technology (SET colleges).
There, the climate for women is very chilly indeed. As Cathy
Ann Trower reports in Science magazine (2001), 42
percent of full professors in two-year colleges are women;
however, women comprise only 17 percent of the full professor
ranks at doctoral-granting institutions. For SET colleges,
the figures are even lower. “In 4-year colleges and
universities,” Trower reports, “women SET (science,
engineering and technology) faculty hold fewer high-ranking
posts than men, are less likely to be full professors, and
are more likely to be assistant professors” (1).
Even though there are increasing numbers
of women graduates in the pipeline, the statistics for women’s
representation at the higher ranks and in the SET colleges
have been largely unchanged for the past twenty years. The
situation is no better in Europe. “Although women constitute
more than half of the student population across Europe, they
hold fewer than 10% of the top positions in the academic system”
(Dwandre 2002, 278).
In the 1970s, Rosabeth Moss Kanter (1977)
wrote about the adverse effects that can occur when women
or minorities are tokens in their departments. Many subsequent
studies also have found that when women represent less than
15–20 percent of a department they are more likely to
feel the effects of gender stereotyping. More recently, Virginia
Valian (1998) has developed cognitive analyses to explain
the persistent inequalities in academia. She claims that both
men and women operate under certain stereotypical gender schemas
that affect our expectations of men’s and women’s
roles. For example, Valian cites research showing that, after
reviewing identical curricula vitae but with different names
attached, men and women academics both consistently rate the
women as less competent for an academic position than the
men. Gender schemas go a long way toward explaining the subtle
dynamics at work during recruitment and promotion on university
Other analyses have revealed additional
aspects of chilly campus climates that help to account for
women’s failure to thrive in academia (see Etzkowitz,
Kemelgor, and Uzzi 2000). One of these is the “death
by a thousand paper cuts” phenomenon. Ingrained assumptions,
practices, and behaviors, often based on gendered stereotypes,
tend to chip away at women. In a Princeton study of women
in science, for example, “nearly a quarter of the women
said their colleagues engaged occasionally or frequently in
‘unprofessional’ behavior and excluded women from
professional activities” (Lawler 2003, 33).
High pressure and low pressure
Gender schema as well as ingrained organizational
assumptions, inappropriate behaviors, and stereotypes, often
hidden in organizations, have long been part of the historic
separation of spheres—the masculine sphere of paid work
and the feminine sphere of domestic life. Gendered assumptions
are most likely to affect the quality of work life and success
for women faculty during interactions within their departments,
particularly with colleagues but also with administrators.
In today’s politically correct work environment blatant
discrimination is not common, but gendered assumptions and
stereotypes are often buried below the surface. For example,
a male department chairperson deciding on merit raises may
unconsciously privilege a male colleague who is his family’s
sole source of financial support.
Entrenched beliefs influencing work practices
are particularly hard to change because the possibility of
change challenges the importance of work in people’s
lives. Systematic change requires a collective opportunity
to reflect on work practices, to discern and discuss the intended
and unintended consequences of the status quo, and to develop
a shared desire to change.
A split jet stream
As Howard Altman recently noted (2004,
50), “even the best faculty development programs tend
to ignore job satisfaction and focus exclusively on job effectiveness.
Both are important.” There is a pressing need within
academia to learn more about faculty satisfaction with their
jobs and with their work environments. In the late nineties,
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) undertook
a comprehensive survey of the women faculty in its school
of science in order to gain insights into their job satisfaction
(Committee on Women Faculty 1999). In 2002 and 2003, we conducted
a similar survey at Utah State University (USU). On our campus,
we chose to focus on the SET colleges because the warming
toward women faculty appears to be the slowest there.
We interviewed forty-two current and
former women faculty members in our SET colleges (Agriculture,
Engineering, Natural Resources, and Science) about their job
satisfaction. In order to discover whether the attitudes of
the men differed from those of the women, we followed up with
interviews of a matched set of forty current male faculty
members from the same SET colleges. We asked each faculty
member three questions: What factors at USU contributed to
your career success and job satisfaction? What factors at
USU were obstacles to success or sources of job dissatisfaction?
What changes would you like to see at USU to improve the recruitment
and retention of faculty? Our findings allow for a comparison
between male and female faculty members regarding their sources
of job satisfaction, dissatisfaction, and obstacles to success.*
We found no significant differences between
men and women faculty in sources of career success and job
satisfaction at USU (see figure 1). As listed by our respondents,
the top four sources of success and satisfaction were positive
interactions with colleagues, access to campus resources,
support of administrators, and positive teaching experiences.
The responses of men and women faculty were also similar for
many of the categories of obstacles to career success and
job satisfaction (see figure 2). The most frequently reported
obstacles that were the same for men and women were lack of
resources on campus, negative interactions with administrators,
negative teaching experiences, and low salary.
There were, however, significant gender
differences in four categories of obstacles to success and
sources of dissatisfaction (see figure 3). Women faculty members
were more likely to report negative interactions with colleagues;
negative experiences with the process of evaluation, promotion,
and tenure; difficulty balancing work and family life; and
overwhelming workloads. These factors are interrelated in
that women faculty typically advise more students and serve
on more committees; neither of these activities is valued
highly for promotion and tenure. Women faculty reported being
left out of collaborations and informal networks and receiving
little mentoring; all of these factors may negatively impact
promotion and tenure as well.
We found that, while untenured women
are generally more satisfied with their academic careers,
tenured women in the SET fields are more discouraged. The
findings from Utah State University parallel the results found
in studies done at both MIT and Princeton (Committee on Women
Faculty 1999; Lawler 2003). Overall, these data suggest the
pervasiveness of the problem; substantially different types
of universities are finding similar sources of dissatisfaction
among their women faculty in the sciences and engineering.
What’s in the forecast?
Can anything be done about this chilly
climate phenomenon? To answer this question, the National
Science Foundation created the NSF-ADVANCE program. The goal
of the program is “to increase the participation of
women in the scientific and engineering workforce through
the increased representation and advancement of women in academic
science and engineering careers” (see www.nsf.gov/home/
crssprgm/advance). Utah State University is one of the nineteen
schools that have received NSF-ADVANCE Institutional Transformation
Awards for developing plans to pursue new organizational strategies
to make access by women faculty to senior and leadership roles
Conducting the job satisfaction surveys
discussed above was the Utah State ADVANCE team’s first
attempt to more clearly define the problem on our campus.
We learned from these interviews that the women on our campus—a
large, public, land-grant university in the rural West—face
very similar problems to women on other campuses, such as
MIT and Princeton—large, private universities in the
urban East—as well as globally (e.g., women scientists
in the European Union). We also learned that the experiences
of men and women differ significantly with regard to their
job satisfaction, with women experiencing a great deal more
difficulty than men in balancing their work lives and their
personal lives. Our initial research goes a long way toward
defining the chilly climate problem.
Nothing but blue skies
We know from organizational change research
that change is always incremental, often with three steps
forward and two steps back. As Leo Higdon points out (2003,
68), we need to “learn new and better ways” to
manage change while “preserving the best of the tradition
and culture on which our institutions are based.”
Our vision for the future is of a university
where all faculty members, regardless of their gender or ethnicity,
succeed to their fullest potential. Our overall goals for
the ADVANCE-Utah State project are to
- transform departmental climates by using an organizational
change model from the business arena called “Dual-Agenda”
(Rapoport et al. 2002);
- transform university policies and procedures that are
currently barriers for recruiting and retaining women;
- transform faculty support infrastructure, including the
construction of a new on-campus child development center.
To accomplish these goals, we are working
together with various groups on our campus, including the
president and the provost, the vice president for research,
the Office of Development, the Office of Sponsored Programs,
the Office of Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity, the Council
of Academic Deans, Student Support Services, and the Tri-Council
for Women and Gender Programs.
Warming things up on your campus
Based on our research, the following
recommendations may help to improve the climate for women
on your campus.
Recognize the “local”
weather phenomenon. What happens in departments is
what really affects faculty the most directly (just like the
weather: when the blizzard is headed toward your town, that’s
when you really should pay attention). Identify departments
that have poor climates. Provide support or training for department
chairs so that they can address problems within their departments.
Occasionally, outside intervention may be necessary. Increase
awareness of gender schemas for faculty serving on promotion
and tenure committees and on faculty search committees.
Increase the transparency of
processes. This is critical in breaking down the
“us-versus-them” phenomenon wherein faculty see
the administration as their enemy. When decision processes
such as resource allocation or promotion are unclear or hidden,
distrust increases. Trust can be regained by increasing transparency.
Make improvements in work-life
issues. Work-life policies seem to be especially
important for women, but male faculty members—particularly
those who are untenured—have reported struggling with
issues such as child care as well. Policies that can improve
work-life issues for faculty include paid maternity leave,
on-site child care, tenure extensions and/or transitional
support to maintain or restart research following major life
events, and part-time or job-sharing options for tenure-track
Evaluate committee appointments.
Feeling overloaded with work and committee assignments
is a common source of dissatisfaction for women faculty. Committee
appointments often disproportionately affect women. Avoid
the token-woman syndrome of having a woman on every committee
and neglecting to notice that some women—especially
those from underrepresented fields—are overutilized
and that their careers are being adversely affected. Consider
using a spreadsheet that shows all committee appointments
to see which faculty members are already serving more than
Create and publicize dual-career
policies. Of those universities that have policies
to assist dual-career couples with placement, only a minority
post the information on their Web sites so that it can easily
be found by those looking for positions. Having such policies
in place and making this information readily available will
improve placement in academia of women faculty with PhD/scientist
Improve research collaborations.
Women at MIT and Utah State both reported feeling
isolated and pointed to the challenges of finding colleagues
to work with on research projects. Furthermore, our data suggest
that women do not realize that resources are obtained in many
cases through networking with colleagues. Efforts to emphasize
teamwork and to create opportunities for collaboration on
research can improve the job satisfaction as well as the productivity
Is there a global warming toward
women in academia?
Unfortunately, not much warming has occurred
in those regions of campus where women are still underrepresented.
Retaining more women in academic science, engineering, and
technology careers is critical if the United States is to
reduce its reliance on foreign-born scientists. It is also
critical for the development of a technology-based economy.
One of the major obstacles to increasing the proportion of
women in the scientific workforce is the lack of role models
in colleges and universities where most scientific training
occurs. According to the NSF’s biannual survey of the
scientific and engineering workforce, the proportion of women
full professors in science and engineering fields has not
increased in twenty years. This lack of senior women faculty
is often attributed to the “chilly climate” for
women scientists and engineers on college campuses across
Utah State University is one of several
major institutions currently conducting climate surveys and
revising policies that are inadvertently biased against women
faculty. As the president of MIT has pointed out (Committee
on Women Faculty 1999), however, that’s the easy part.
The hard part is changing departmental climates. Many institutions
and national organizations, including Utah State, also are
searching for successful models of organizational change in
an attempt to warm up the weather, particularly for women
scientists and engineers who, all too often, are left out
in the cold.
Altman, H. B. 2004. A baker’s dozen:
Dirty lessons I have learned in an academic career. Change
36 (4): 50–53.
Committee on Women Faculty in the School
of Science at MIT. 1999. A study of the status of women faculty
in science at MIT. The MIT Faculty Newsletter 11
Dwandre, N. 2002. European strategies
for promoting women in science. Science 295, January 11, 278–79.
Etzkowitz, H., C. Kemelgor, and B. Uzzi.
2000. Athena unbound: The advancement of women in science
and technology. London: Cambridge University Press.
Higdon, L. I., Jr. 2003. Change from
within: The challenge of shaping the institutional culture.
Liberal Education 89 (1): 64–68.
Kanter, R. M. 1977. Men and women
of the corporation. New York: Basic Books.
Lawler, A. 2003. Princeton study strikes
sad but familiar chord. Science 302, October 3, 33.
National Science Foundation Report #00-327.
Rapoport, R., L. Bailyn, J. K. Fletcher,
and B. H. Pruitt. 2002. Beyond work family balance: Advancing
gender equity and workplace performance. San Francisco:
Trower, C. A. 2001. Women in the academy:
Largely without tenure. Science, September 14. http://nextwave.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2001/09/12/3.
Valian, V. 1998. Why so slow? The
advancement of women. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
* Data from this survey are also summarized
in the Academic Leader newsletter for academic deans
and department chairs (April 2005, Volume 21, Number 4).
Christine Hult is
professor of English and associate dean of the College of
Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, Ronda
Callister is associate professor of management
and human resources, and Kim Sullivan
is associate professor of biology, all at Utah State University.
Their work was supported by a grant from the National Science
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