Report finds underrepresentation of women faculty in science departments

    Although the number of women faculty members has increased significantly in the social sciences and humanities departments over the past decade, women continue to be underrepresented on the faculty of engineering and science departments, according to statistics from the Office of Academic Affirmative Action and the UCSD Health Sciences Gender Equity Task Force report released in April.

    The Health Sciences Task Force report found that women are underrepresented among the health sciences faculty when compared to the available pool of applicants.

    In addition, female faculty seem to be given accelerated academic advancement in the health sciences less often than men, the report said.

    According to the most recent statistics from the Office of Academic Affirmative Action, women make up 16 percent of the UCSD tenured faculty as a whole. However, men constitute close to 90 percent of tenured faculty in the physical and biological sciences and School of Medicine.

    This is significantly different from other departments, such as the social sciences and the arts and humanities, where men constitute 76 percent and 69 percent of the tenured faculty, respectively.

    According to current statistics, 93 percent of the tenured faculty at the Jacobs School of Engineering are male.

    “It’s very disappointing to see what that breakdown is and the fact that UCSD is worse than the UC average,” said Pam Cosman, who is the only female professor in the electrical and computer engineering department. “UCSD is very heavy on sciences and engineering, and women tend to be less well-represented in [these fields], so if you have a campus which is dominated by that, then you’re going to have a faculty which will have fewer women.”

    Kim Barrett, a professor of medicine and co-chair of the Health Sciences Gender Equity Task Force, said obtaining tenure remains a difficulty for women.

    “The proportion of women in those positions has basically been flat for a large number of years,” Barrett said. “While we have had some growth in the representation of women in the medical field, it’s all in series that don’t carry any tenure.”

    The report states that on average, women in the health sciences are paid about 23 percent less in wages than their male colleagues. The report also found that although women are well-represented on health sciences committees, they are rarely found in the top leadership positions on these committees.

    “Our findings don’t necessarily mean that there is discrimination going on, but just point out that we have to look at why there are these apparent discrepancies,” Barrett said.

    The health sciences report reinforced findings from a March 2002 Gender Equity Task Force report conducted for the general campus. The March report cited the recruitment and retention of female faculty members as the most serious challenge facing departments, particularly in the sciences and engineering. The report also found that over the past 44 years, women have been hired with a salary averaging 7 percent lower than that of men.

    Barrett referred to the lack of female faculty in certain departments as a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”

    “If you don’t have women faculty, then women students don’t see those role models and don’t get the impression that that’s something they can do as a career choice, and you have fewer women students who would then choose these fields,” she said.

    Statistics show that more women are represented on the faculty of humanities and social science departments.

    In the communication department, 53 percent of the tenured faculty are female. Females also constitute 33 percent and 43 percent of the tenured faculty in the ethnic studies and literature departments, respectively.

    Communication is the only department with a majority of female professors, the data showed. According to Geoffrey Bowker, chair of the communication department, the department advertises to networks of feminist scholars and minority ethnic groups during the hiring process and also works with the affirmative action office on campus. The department also makes strong efforts to represent the theories of both male and female scholars, he said.

    “We have a commitment within the faculty of maintaining diversity, and that is something that comes across [in the communication department],” Bowker said.

    Regardless of department, female faculty can face unique problems while working as university professors, according to some. Mary Walshok, associate vice chancellor of the UCSD extension program, said she believes that the most competitive institutions are the slowest to integrate women and minorities.

    “At a place like UCSD, everyone hustles,” Walshok said. “Everyone is aggressive. So the qualities that typically make a woman unattractive are needed to make her successful.”

    According to Walshok, a much higher percentage of women ask for maternity leave than men ask for paternity leave. Both the 2002 campuswide gender equity report and the 2004 health sciences report state that UC policies on childbearing and family leave are not sufficiently flexible or accommodating for women.

    “[Studies] found that having a child before tenure was correlated with career advancement for men but correlated with decline in career prospects for women faculty,” Blair Loy, assistant professor of sociology, said. “So there is a risk involved in having children before tenure, and there is also a risk with waiting.”

    Cosman said that her personal experience with maternity policies were positive. In addition, she said that changes in maternity policies over the last several years have provided greater relief and flexibility for women.

    “I think the [ECE] department has been really good to me,” Cosman said. “I’ve had two children during the time I’ve been here on the faculty, and I think that was handled very well in terms of getting teaching relief.”

    Walshok notes that although more UCSD female faculty have moved into senior level positions, efforts can still be made to improve mobility and participation for women.

    “In big research universities, women are still only 10 to 15 percent of the tenured faculty,” Walshok said. “At the elite sectors, women are still underrepresented.”

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