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Gender gap in tenure-track faculty positions persists at Brown

Task Force on the Status of Women Faculty works to investigate possible gender differences in faculty experiences

At universities across the country, women occupy fewer tenure-track academic positions than men. Brown is no exception.

Among full professors at the University, women occupy 118 positions while men occupy 309 as of 2022, according to the Office of Institutional Research. Gender is categorized as a binary in the University’s data system per federal law, according to the Diversity Dashboard.

“Nationally, women face discrimination that limits their access to … tenure-track jobs,” wrote Leah VanWey, dean of the faculty, in an email to The Herald. “This takes the form of both being less likely to be offered a tenure-track teaching job and being more willing to accept a non-tenure-track job.”


She also noted that women are cited less frequently in research, receive lower scores on teaching evaluations and are selected for fewer research grants than men. 

VanWey described measures taken by the University to prevent gender bias in faculty hiring and the monitoring of the promotion of women.

She wrote that all University search committees are required to have a diversity representative that ensures “racial or gender bias is avoided as much as possible.”

Additionally, academic departments that report to the dean of the faculty — the humanities, social sciences, physical sciences and the Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences department — send advertisements for openings to the dean of the faculty for review. 

“We compare the gender composition of the pool of applicants and the list of finalists to national data on the gender composition of recent PhDs in the field,” VanWey wrote.

According to Professor of Science and Neuroscience and Director of the Robert J. and Nancy D. Carney Institute for Brain Science Diane Lipscombe, who also serves as the chair of the Task Force on the Status of Women Faculty, the gender distribution among tenure-track faculty is due to “an accumulation of a huge number of things.”

She cited a lack of role models and bias against women during reviews for promotion as two causes of the nationwide gender discrepancies within tenure-track professorships.

Lipscombe added that childcare, a responsibility that often falls disproportionately on women, can also make it harder for early-career professors to “achieve what people are looking for.”

“When I started at Brown, I had two very young children under the age of three,” Lipscombe said. “Trying to park (on campus), and then giving a lecture, and then taking them to a doctor’s appointment and not having parking space when (I came) back — there (was) this daily additional challenge.”

For the past 10 years, of those receiving doctorates in the life sciences, more than half are women. But women only make up between 30% and 40% of applicants to life sciences faculty positions at the University, Lipscombe said, describing the difference as “a huge fall off.”


VanWey wrote that while the University has not set an explicit goal for gender representation, “we clearly need to increase the representation and non-binary faculty across the ranks, especially among full professors.”

As chair of the Task Force on the Status of Women Faculty, Lipscombe works with faculty across campus to examine “whether there are any gender differences in responsibilities, opportunities and outcomes available to Brown faculty” and recommend changes to University policy, according to the Task Force website

The Task Force will release a report of its findings later this spring, according to Sylvia Carey-Butler, vice president for Institutional Equity and Diversity. Carey-Butler noted that the report’s findings will provide more recent evidence regarding differences in gender representation across faculty.

“There will be findings in (the report) that will be helpful,” Carey-Butler said. 

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Members of the task force “were all motivated by the data” on the faculty gender gap, as well as “their own personal experiences” when examining gender differences in faculty, Lipscombe said. These experiences led members to seek out both qualitative and quantitative data through interviews with faculty members across campus.

Task Force members “have all felt an extra burden of challenges or higher barriers during our careers,” she said. “If we’re feeling that, then what is the status of (the rest) of our faculty?”

Neil Mehta

Neil Mehta is the editor-in-chief and president of the Brown Daily Herald's 134th editorial board. They study public health and statistics at Brown. Outside the office, you can find Neil baking and playing Tetris.

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