Are Women Still Facing Promotion Problems in Academia?

After writing Shadow Campus, some people asked if the difficulty Meg faced in getting tenured in a primarily male business school actually still happens.  I can’t blame people for thinking that situation surely must be fiction by now, and indeed Shadow Campus is fiction.  But the issue of female advancement in especially “leading” business schools and other predominantly male departments is consistent with the issues still plaguing nonacademic organizations.

A telling article in the September-October 2013 edition of Harvard Magazine describes “stubborn limits” in the gender composition of tenure-track faculty” even in the faculty of arts and sciences.  In fact, at Harvard “the female proportion has fluctuated between roughly 30 percent and 40 percent for nearly two decades — and recently declined to 35 percent.”

Bussey professor of organismic and evolutionary biology, Elena M. Kramer, chair of the standing committee on women, presented these data and her analysis to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences last spring.  She asked later with the rising proportion of women earning doctorates, “Why can’t we break out of this 30 percent ceiling in our tenure-track appointments?”

The gender skew exists in economics among undergraduates, according to Lee professor of economics, Claudia Goldin, and president of the American Economic Association.  Here there is early attrition from the field.

There’s what’s been called an “homophily” effect where people are more interested in and attracted to people like themselves.  Does this, akin to what is called a “conservative effect” by Kramer, take hold more during a recession?  This would suggest that the underrepresentation of women in many parts of academia and business is due at least in part to a kind of subconscious effect or habitual effect rather than anything intentionally discriminatory. Of course, it’s difficult to say whether both are not operating.

You can read the Harvard Magazine article to see what is being done at Harvard to offset this problem.  But it is clear that the issue of being attracted to tenure track positions and being able to become tenured is indeed still a significant issue for women in academia and a dilemma for administrations of universities friendly to women but unable to put an end to their continued underrepresentation.

Shadow Campus is fiction.  The issue around which the story evolves, we keep learning, certainly is not.

Shadow Campus Amazon Kindle link also here.

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