More than 41 percent of female scientists at the University reported cases of gender discrimination and 20 percent reported cases of “unwanted sexual attention” over the past five years, according to results of the ADVANCE survey on women in science and engineering.
The survey, which was conducted at the University and funded by the National Science Foundation, also showed that female scientists are more likely to experience gender discrimination and unwanted sexual attention, to rate their department more negatively, receive fewer items on their renegotiated contracts and to be responsible for more household tasks than their male counterparts.
Women also chair committees at a lower rate despite their reported greater interest in leadership roles, the survey stated.
NSF ADVANCE committee member Abigail Stewart announced the results and emphasized the study’s relevance in conjunction with the lack of female science faculty members.
“Climate matters because it is strongly associated with job satisfaction in men and women, and job satisfaction contributes highly to performance,” Stewart said.
The climate study is one of three areas targeted by the project, which investigates the proportionally low number of women compared to men in science and engineering faculty roles across the country.
“This is a concern to us because of our mandate,” said Alice Hogan, chair of the ADVANCE committee. “We (at the NSF) are responsible for providing new generations of scientists and engineers, and when we are missing half of the population, it becomes a problem.”
According to NSF research data, not only have women faculty in scientific fields “lagged far behind gains made by women in non-science fields,” but they have also been “tenured more slowly and earn less on average from their male counterparts.”
The University was one of nine institutions to which the NSF awarded an ADVANCE grant in 2001. The grant allocated $3.7 million over a five-year period to assist intense research and analysis of the situation of women scientists on campus.
The study’s primary design surveyed women scientists against male scientists and female social scientists from 10 colleges at the University, including the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, the Medical School, the School of Engineering and the Nursing School.
More than 300 faculty responded, with only 30 percent being male. Around 50 percent of the females contacted replied.
Stewart said the number of males who responded was disappointing, but that the overall number of faculty contributing was about normal for this type of survey.
“With very few exceptions, where the groups differ is within the climate that is the context for their work,” Stewart added. “Otherwise, they share similar values and professional goals.”
Stewart said the study’s results suggest that equality and leadership opportunities for women scientists are in need of great improvement.
Committee member Pamela Raymond, who also serves as senior counselor to the provost, said that achieving a critical mass of female scientists is essential.
“At this step, initiatives we must take include increasing women recruitment within five years,” Raymond said.
She added that research shows differential treatment of women in science by both men and women, and the fewer women in the profession, the greater the discrimination.
The pipeline theory, explained Stewart, claims that with education being equal between men and women, an equal proportion of women “in the pipe” to begin with will result in an equal proportion in high academic positions.
But as the current situation exhibits, Stewart said the pipeline theory does not explain “the leak” of women in scientific fields as they ascend to the collegiate level.
University President Mary Sue Coleman, who researched for 19 years at the University of Kentucky, also spoke at the lecture and stressed the significance of post-graduate experiences.
“What we need to move forward is to change the graduate student experience,” Coleman said.
Supporting Coleman’s concern, NSF data shows the greatest drop-off of women working in science and engineering occurs during graduate school.