The fact that there are so few women in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) professions has been a mystery for a long time. A. Hope Jahren of the New York Times writes that according to the most recent statistics released by UNESCO, “women’s enrollment in graduate education in the United States has been greater than men’s for each of the last 30 years.” But every year, female students drop out of STEM graduate programs in large numbers and are denied tenure at high rates when they do complete their studies and move into faculty positions. Women are also poorly represented as senior STEM leaders. Jahren notes that women do not drop out of graduate programs because of performance—there is no difference in GPAs between women who drop out and those who stay in. And women are not denied tenure because of a failure to publish. So what is going on? Several new important studies reveal reasons why women struggle to be successful in the sciences and point the way to changes that will make it possible for them to succeed in the STEM professions.
Reason 1: Research Funding Is Significantly Lower for Female ScientistsPriyanka Dayal McCluskey of the Boston Globe reports that at big biomedical research institutions, including hospitals, universities, and other research institutions in New England, male scientists beginning their careers receive more than twice as much funding to support their work as female colleagues. A study conducted by a Boston nonprofit group, Health Resources in Action, found that male scientists beginning their careers as faculty researchers receive median start-up funding of $889,000 to establish their research labs compared to $350,000 for women. These funding packages are negotiated confidentially between researchers and department heads, and with no transparency, this pattern of gender bias had not previously been visible. Smaller start-up budgets make it harder for women to publish research and attract new grants, which impacts tenure and promotions for them.
Reason 2: Women Do Not Receive Tenure Credit for Their PublicationsJustin Wolfers of the New York Times reports on research by Heather Sarsons at Harvard that compiled data on the publication records of young economists recruited by top universities over the past 40 years. Wolfers notes that the career path for economists is largely organized around tenure, which is based on “publish or perish” criteria. The study indicates that while women in the field publish as much as men, they are twice as likely to perish or be denied tenure. Sarsons’s research found that the only women who enjoyed the same rate of tenure success as men were those who published as solo authors. And here is where the study findings get interesting. Consider that most scholarly papers are coauthored and that economics is a male-dominated field, and note these findings:
- When a woman and a man coauthor a paper, the man receives full credit toward tenure and his female coauthor receives no credit. It is assumed that only he deserves the credit.
- Only when a woman publishes a paper alone or coauthors with another woman is she given full credit toward tenure.