NRC reports import of having women on academic hiring committees

i-f875c0b07d9b3cb6229668554781b35a-alice.jpgCornelia Dean at the New York Times reports on a new report by National Research Council on the status of women faculty in STEM fields. I haven't read it yet (just ordered a copy), but Dean reports one particular item of note, "The panel said one factor outshined all others in encouraging women to apply for jobs: having women on the committees appointed to fill them."

Hark at this, faculty search committees. And please figure out ways to value women faculty members' time on search committees, because everyone will ask the few women there are to serve on all the search committees, which can end up being a being a burden for those few women. It's even worse for women of color because they get asked to be "the woman" and "the minority" on all the committees -- twice as much, maybe.

So, hey, cut them some slack somewhere else in their service roster, why don't you? Kaithxbai.

Read the full NAP report here. You can also preorder a hardcopy for ~$50, or pay for the pdf.

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I'm kind of confused as to how the mere presence of women on the search committee encourages women to apply for jobs. I applied to ~30 schools in my recent search, and I don't recall knowing that information for any of the schools.

I'll echo what RQ said, because I've never known the composition of the search committee until immediately before the interview, at the earliest. However, I will say that the presence of more than a token female professor in the department encouraged me to apply. I kept a spreadsheet of my applications and one of the columns listed the % women faculty.

I could imagine that having women on the search committee might result in the job ad being circulated through different channels -- for my field, to the Society of Women Engineers, to the Women in Engineering Division of ASEE (American Society for Engineering Education), through informal networks of women, maybe even into blog communities. Getting a bigger number of qualified women to apply is the first step; the second step is avoiding bias in selecting the pool to invite for an interview. There is more research that says that second step is also more likely when women are on the search committee.

The committee was very surprised with their findings as well. I'm glad to hear that this is what the press picked up, though. They also found that, at Research 1 schools, women who get into tenure track positions do just as well as men. This could certainly be taken out of context and used for evil. Of course, there are way fewer women applying for tenure track jobs than the number of qualified women. Unfortunately, they didn't look at grad students or post-docs to see where the women are losing interest in academic careers. There was also an interesting finding that women with mentors have a higher probability of receiving grants than those women without a mentor. This is definitely a report worth reading.

However, I will say that the presence of more than a token female professor in the department encouraged me to apply.

Hee! Now there's a difference from job applications in the early 90's. I looked for all-male departments with a retirement in my field - my goal was to become that token woman. (Eek. I was pretty naive about life after getting hired.)

That is an odd finding. Two more ideas: if a woman is chairing the committee, her name may be included in the ad as a contact. Also, female candidates are more likely to apply to departments with more than a token woman AND those are the departments most likely to have women on search committees.

Search committees are exhausting. I've been on a lot of them recently but haven't seen my service reduced in other areas.

By Anonymous (not verified) on 03 Jun 2009 #permalink

You may want to check out the Inside Higher Ed article about the report.

Some of the comments reflect what we found in a study of an individual institution last year. By the numbers, disproportionately more women hired; and were no/minimal differences in such areas as support from the chair, access to info, mentoring, etc. However, we also asked some climate questions and did some interviews with new faculty and, boy howdy those data told a very different story.