Quantitative Data Show the Dearth of Women on Science and Engineering Faculties

Maybe you've been wondering just exactly how few women scientists and engineers there are in academia in the U.S. Or, to put it another way, maybe you've wondered just exactly how much men scientists and engineers are overrepresented in academia.

There's a new website that gathers and presents comprehensive data you can use to answer those questions. The National Women's Law Center presents The Women's Prerogative. You can find out how many women are teaching in science and engineering at your school - there are data for 150 research universities. There are fact sheets that delineate and discuss the problem and possible solutions. There's much here that will help raise your blood pressure, but I'll just note this: even in the biological sciences, where women have had perhaps their greatest success in infiltrating Man-Land, women are still underrepresented on the faculty. From 1993 to 2002, women received 45% of the PhDs in the biological sciences - yet they make up only 30% of assistant professors in the biological sciences faculty at research universities. (See Scope of the Problem fact sheet.)

The Women's Prerogative doesn't just present the data and leave you with your pissed-offedness increased. It also offers suggestions for specific actions you can take to address the issue at your university, and with the federal government. Because yes, folks, Title VII and Title IX are relevant pieces of legislation here.

So, do take a look-see at the data, and do get pissed off, but don't stop there: write to your university president or the federal agencies that fund scientific research or take any of the other actions suggested on the web site. Let's make some noise!

More like this

Tim left this comment over at Uncertain Principles on Chad's post The Pipeline Problem: I thought the data was pretty clear about this: past high school, the [physics] pipeline is no more leaky for women than it is for men...here's the Report: Read it for yourselves. Examination of the academic "…
A few things about the academic job market have caught my eye recently, but don't really add up to a big coherent argument. I'll note them here, though, to marginally increase the chance that I'll be able to find them later. -- First, this piece at the Guardian got a lot of play, thanks in part to…
From the September 15, 2006 AWIS Washington Wire Women at Work-Striving for 25% Female Faculty In 2000, the European Research Ministries set the goal that 25% of all faculty members would be female by the year 2010. Unfortunately, the numbers are likely to fall far short. To show what the visual…
And by "it", I don't mean the good stuff. Harvard dean Theda Skocpol has announced a new initiative to improve undergraduate teaching at Harvard. I'll believe it when I see it--which means it will never happen. Here's why. The short version is that every year (give or take), some prestigious…

At least for my university, this survey did not encompass the much larger number of bioscientists that are at our medical school.

Yikes! Thanks for passing this along. My discipline isn't included in any of the analyses, but my husband's is. Damn, it's bad.

I am in love with the NWLC (and was in love with them long before Womens Perogative). They are a fantastic organization that not only do excellent lobbying work for greater gender equity in academia, but have also supported me personally in a number of ways. I am forever in their debt

Well, that was depressing. Not that I didn't already know, but it's striking to see it laid out in statistics. I was amused though that they didn't take data from my university's math and computer science departments. I think the professors who look at me like I got lost on my way to the English department ought to count as two men.


Oddly, my science dept ( biology) is very split evenly towards men/women. My math prof is female, my bio profs and TA's this term female. I'd even dare say that the ratio is more women on teaching staff than men.

I do notice that a lot of women in my bio class are not " traditional science" bound as such, opting for nursing or social work, or taking bio this class is required by most of the students attending, and I'm the lone "biology student" in the admittedly small group I study with.

Over at PZ's place, CalGeorge points to a similar gender gap in the population of American Agnostics and Atheists, as per the recent pew survey.


P. 64: "Among agnostics and atheists, the gender
gap is even larger; seven-in-ten atheists and nearly two-thirds (64%) of agnostics are men."

Posted by: CalGeorge | February 27, 2008 12:49 AM

Given that exposure to science and critical thinking play a significant role in many (if not most) deconversion stories, I wonder if the lack of women scientists explains the missing women Agnostics and Atheists.

By Stagyar zil Doggo (not verified) on 27 Feb 2008 #permalink

It is a pity that Agriculture Sciences were not included in the original survey, as that is where my discipline gets "placed" most the time.

Interesting to see it all together.

Thanks for linking to the site, Zuska -- and thanks for the kudos, absinthe!

Just wanted to clarify a minor thing -- the Women in the Sciences website itself isn't actually a new venture. It's been up for a while, and the data it gives are a few years old. But it's definitely still interesting...

Also, because that website gives a link to sign up for NWLC's list that's no longer working, I would be remiss if I didn't give an updated link to anyone who'd like to be added to our e-mail list.

Thanks again!

I agree that women are under-represented in the sciences, and I agree that women suffer from some sexism in their ability to advance as faculty. But I don't think using things like Title IX is the way to fix the low numbers of women getting degrees in the sciences.

Unless you can show evidence of Admissions officials and Faculty members actively working to discourage women from getting a degree in the hard sciences, legislation is the wrong way to tackle this beast. Why should a college be punished because women are not interested in joining the sciences? This is a problem that needs to be addressed BEFORE women get to college. Girls in grade school and high school need to be encouraged to pursue the math and science so they get interested, instead of ignored like they are now.

I don't want to see Universities scaling back Engineering and Science programs in order to make the numbers fit. If you find a University that is practicing discrimination, great, hit them with Title IX, but if the school is open and accommodating to anyone who wants to get a degree in the sciences, but no one is taking them up on the offer, why should they be punished?

MadRocketScientist, you do not understand Title IX. It doesn't have to be some individual person whose conscious desire is to discriminate against women. If there is institutionalized bias that prevents women from advancing as men do, or that keeps women from being hired in proportion to their availability in the PhD pool, then that can constitute discrimination. And, under Title IX, the federal government would have the ability to withhold federal funding until discriminating institutions took action to correct that bias. The point precisely is that universities and departments are NOT always open and accommodating to anyone who wants to get a degree. That's why you have higher attrition of underrepresented groups than you do of white males; that's why women are underrepresented in the faculty ranks and men overrepresented, according to the numbers of PhDs produced over the last six to ten years.

I don't think you need to worry about engineering programs being dismantled. Universities cannot afford to lose federal funding, and they will quickly find ways to dismantle and counteract bias when their lifeline is threatened.

But what if no bias exists, what if there is just a general disinterest amongst young women to join a program? Title IX does not (if I understand it correctly) make that discrimination.

I agree if the "old boy" behavior is closing doors or barring entrance for women into the sciences, or is making life unfairly difficult for female PhD candidates, that needs to be burned out, and I'll gladly hand you the torch.

What I don't want to see are Colleges punished because their applicant pool, despite their best efforts, is not diverse enough to satisfy Title IX requirements. How can we punish a school for not graduating enough women from the ME program when girls are not encouraged to pursue the physical sciences in high school? At what point do we look beyond the college and look at what the college is being asked to work with?

I've done hiring on a Big Ten campus, and I tried like hell to hire women to work as techs, and when you get 20 applications for the job and 2 are women who are not even remotely qualified, what is a person to do?

MadRocketScientist: first, bias does exist. It exists at every level, from middle/high school on through undergraduate, graduate, and faculty levels. There are forms of institutionalized sexism, different from the conscious acts of any one person; it's built into the system, it's the gender schemas and implicit bias we are all subject to. It is not enough to say "I tried to hire some women and there weren't any." How do you go about recruiting them? Evaluating them? Have you taken steps to counteract unconscious bias?

At the faculty levels, women are underrepresented in most science and engineering fields compared to their prevalence in the available PhD pool, and men are overrepresented. Much of this is the consequence of institutional barriers to women and unconscious bias against women.

It is this latter bit that makes universities and departments vulnerable to Title IX. Science and engineering departments have got to step up and take responsibility for dismantling structural barriers. If they don't, they are allowing discrimination to go on, even if it's unconscious. And that is what's illegal.

Before Title IX, people said that women "just didn't want" to play sports. Title IX opened up opportunities to them and lo! we have all sorts of women athletes today. We have fierce competition in women's sports at the collegiate level. Personally, I expect to see the same sort of blossoming of interest in girls/women when Title IX is finally applied to the academic environment - where it has been applicable all along, though not utilized.

Hi Zuska,

thanks for your continuing effort to educate. I hope you dont ever become as frustrated as I am. The National Academy publication "Beyond Bias and Barriers:
Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering" should be made compulsory reading for everyone, particularly those who dont think there is a problem but never let a lack of information stop them from giving their opinion. This publication can be downloaded for $15 from http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11741#toc or, if you are in a completely cash strapped department, can even be read for free (though not without pain) at the same website.