New report sheds light on why women get less faculty appointments at research institutions

women-STEM-facultyAs women entering STEM fields and later receiving their Ph.D.’s increases, a new report reveals that though women Ph.D.’s are likelier to start their careers in academia, their male peers get more of the faculty appointments at research institutions; leading to the question: “Why?”

According to a new analysis by the American Institutes for Research (AIR), “Early Academic Career Pathways in STEM: Do gender and family status matter?” gender and family may have a large effect on new graduates’ careers. The paper also notes that being married or having young children looks to be a disadvantage in securing a position at a research institution for both men and women.

The analyses were conducted using 2009 and 2010 data from the National Science Foundation’s Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED), and included the most recent years of data available. The sample is limited to U.S. citizens and includes 27,724 respondents.

“Women of all races and ethnicities continue to compose a small number of science and engineering faculty at U.S. research universities and often do not receive the same level of recognition, career affirmation, and resources as their male colleagues,” notes the report.

Based off of this fact, the report is part of a series of briefs produced by AIR to promote research, policy and practice related to broadening the participation of traditionally underrepresented groups in STEM doctoral education and the workforce.

The brief is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

(Next page: STEM and women by the numbers)

The authors analyzed survey data on the postdoctoral employment status and first jobs of those with STEM Ph.D.’s, focusing on whether these new graduates reported beginning their careers in academia, defined as a postdoctoral fellowship or faculty position within a postsecondary or affiliated institution.

The authors also looked at the two types of employer institutions: research, a university with extensive doctoral/research activity; and non-research, a university without research activity.

Notable findings include:

  • The percentage of those with a STEM Ph.D. securing any type of job—academic or non-academic—upon graduation is higher for men than women (70 percent, compared with 65 percent).
  • However, women are more likely to begin their careers in academia (79 percent, compared with 67 percent of men), as opposed to such nonacademic fields as government or the for-profit sector.
  • Men are more likely than women (13 percent versus 10 percent) to start their postdoctoral careers as faculty at a research institution, considered the most prestigious type of academic position.
  • Married recipients with STEM doctorates are significantly less likely to begin their academic careers at a research institution, regardless of gender: 79 percent of married men versus 84 percent of unmarried men and 73 percent of married women versus 79 percent of unmarried women.
  • Married men and men with young children were the least likely of all groups examined to begin their careers in academia: 78 percent of married women versus 64 percent of married men and 80 percent of women with young children, compared with 63 percent of men with young children.

“An academic career in a STEM discipline demands a continuous progression from college, graduate school, postdoctoral work and then an academic appointment,” researchers Courtney Tanenbaum and Rachel Upton said. “This trajectory conflicts with the biological clocks of women who are beginning their careers when they are most likely to be starting a family or considering it. It could also hinder the success of men who want a better work-life balance.”

For the complete analysis, read the report.

“The data show there is great potential for increasing the number and proportion of women in the STEM academy, but efforts must be made to ensure that more women Ph.D recipients who begin their careers in academic positions have opportunities to do so at the top research institutions,” said the report’s authors, “and that they are retained and provided with a work environment that challenges the traditionally male-dominated cultures and biases that have plagues many STEM departments and hindered women’s success, advancement, and job satisfaction…”

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