University News

Gender gap persists among tenured faculty

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, April 19, 2012

Though male and female professors who apply for tenure are approved at similar rates across divisions, far fewer women are currently tenured in the life sciences, physical sciences and social sciences, according to data from the office of the dean of the faculty.

“I suggest that it is the hiring process that is lopsided ­- not the tenure rate,” said Kenneth Breuer, professor of engineering and chair of the Tenure, Promotions and Appointments Committee. Data shows that the University must work more to reach out to women during the initial hiring process, he said. 

There is no statistically significant difference between tenure rates for male and female assistant professors and hires – 66 percent of male assistant hires receive tenure, compared to 75 percent of female assistant hires. 

But the percent of currently tenured faculty members between men and women is significantly different ­- 73 percent of tenured faculty members are male, while 27 percent of tenured faculty members are female. Among untenured faculty members, 61 percent are male, and 39 percent are female. 

Of 501 tenured faculty members at Brown, 365 are male, and the remaining 136 are female. The University has 119 untenured professors, 71 of whom are male and 48 of whom are female.

Within specific divisions of the University, tenured females are far less represented in physical sciences, life sciences and social sciences. In the humanities, men and women are more equally represented within the tenured cohort, according to the data from the office of the dean of the faculty. 

In the physical sciences, 10 percent of tenured professors are female, and in the life sciences, 30 percent of tenured faculty are female. In the social sciences, tenured faculty are 32 percent female. Women represent 41 percent of the tenured faculty in the humanities division.

The numbers “don’t surprise me – they disturb me,” Breuer said, adding that he was struck by the gender difference between tenured male and female faculty members in the social sciences. 

With this discrepancy in mind, the University is committed to hiring women in fields where they are minority candidates, said Kevin McLaughlin P’12, dean of the faculty. He added that women are not a minority in the humanities departments such as language and literature.

One reason for the difference could be that some faculty members who were hired in the 1960s are still teaching. Since then, the University has undergone “a transformation of the demography of the professoriate,” McLaughlin said.

For the difference between men and women who go up for tenure, the “single biggest thing is the pipeline to begin with,” said Timothy Herbert, professor and chair of geological sciences. 

Women are underrepresented among tenured professors because they either take themselves out of the tenure track – a factor he said may be due to lack of encouragement – or because they were not equally represented in the initial hiring process, he said.

Herbert said the University must assure women  they will receive support if they choose to take time off for family reasons. Due to recent changes to policies for teaching relief for parents on new children, both men and women can take time off when they become parents, according to the faculty handbook. 

Female faculty members are concerned about having children during both the PhD process and the years when they are up for tenure, and so they may postpone the decision to have children until they receive tenure. That process can last until a woman is around 40, McLaughlin said. Many female faculty members take advantage of both the teaching relief and the new option to extend tenure review by a year in order to have more time for children, he said. 

Sydney Blattman ’15, who is deciding between studying chemical engineering and biochemistry, said she has not yet noticed a discrepancy between male and female instructors. She said she tends to seek out female professors as role models and for help in classes, adding that she will probably lose that resource as she continues in her field. 

The lack of female representation is motivation to continue, Blattman said. “In order to encourage female students to continue, it is important to have female professors,” she said. 

As more and more graduate and Ph.D students are female, women will represent more of the professoriate in all fields, Herbert said. In his department, 50 percent of most recent hires were female, he said. It takes a lot of time for the faculty composition to evolve, he said, adding that he hopes female students will have patience. 

“It’s upsetting to hear these numbers,” said Rosalyn Price ’14, who plans to go into biology. Women are the best role models, she said, adding that though being a minority in her field may pose challenges, she is happy to work where women are less represented. There are many women in her classes at Brown, and “there is a lot of possibility for change,” she said, adding that the disparity has not discouraged her from pursuing her academic interests.