Today (Feb. 11) is the fifth annual International Day of Women and Girls in Science, a commemoration to emphasize that females should have full, equal access to the sciences and encouragement to participate in them. Although this effort may someday lead to a bright future of gender equality in academia, the road to get there is long.
One Texas Tech University researcher is now part of a nationwide collaboration hoping to shorten the journey by providing a roadmap.
Emily Dhurandhar, an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology & Sport Management, is one of the authors of "Turning chutes into ladders for women faculty: A review and roadmap for equity in academia," published today in the Journal of Women's Health.
Statistics show that women are underrepresented in the highest levels of academia, particularly in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine; they are less likely than men to achieve tenure; and they constitute less than one-third of full professors. Black and Hispanic women face even greater disparity. Such factors contribute to women leaving academia at a disproportionately higher rate than men.
"Some close female friends and colleagues from my postdoctoral fellowship and I started our faculty positions and had children around the same time," Dhurandhar said. "We were all running into so many issues when striving for tenure that we started a chat group to brainstorm and exchange ideas. The issues we were troubleshooting seemed to be universal to all women faculty striving to get tenure and succeed in academia, so we decided to write this manuscript."
The article presents what its authors term "chutes" and "ladders" - respectively, the things that prevent women from rising within academia or drive them out altogether, and the policies and strategies institutions can adopt to help women stay and advance.
Chutes include biases against marriage or having children; shortages of working-mother role models and female mentors in general; student evaluations, which consistently rate men higher than women; and grant-funding disparities. Culturally, women are more likely to be the caregivers of children and/or parents, leading to a more difficult work/life balance.
"Sometimes the hours of academia being outside a typical 9-5 workday makes for challenging childcare situations - for example, dinners with visiting speakers or faculty candidates or early-morning or weekend data collection in the clinic with study participants," Dhurandhar said. "There also is an expectation to travel to conferences to present research and connect with collaborators, which comes with the hidden cost of either additional childcare to help my husband when he is home alone with the kids, or travel for the kids to join me and childcare at the conference site itself, or the cost of travel for my mother-in-law to come with me so she can watch the kids.
"It is frustrating that the infrastructure of academia, like many industries, was built with the expectation that faculty will be living in a single-income family structure, where one spouse is always available for household duties, and this has yet to change."
The ladders Dhurandhar and her coauthors suggest include mentoring programs, particularly with senior women faculty members; equitable pay; using rubrics and peers or third parties for standardized evaluations; and family-friendly policies such as paid family leave, access to childcare, reimbursement for work-related childcare expenses and scheduling networking events during the workday.
"To show a real commitment to gender equality, supportive policies at all institutions should provide the infrastructure needed for dual-earning households to succeed without overburdening themselves, or without one spouse having to sacrifice their success," Dhurandhar said. "Women need to be educated and empowered to understand their worth when they have a career. Their role at home can, and should, change if they are expected to contribute equally, if not more, to the financial stability of the family. But ultimately, the demand to change the status quo in the household has to come from women, and women first have to believe the burden of household and childcare duties should no longer be on their shoulders alone."
Other researchers in the collaboration represent the University of Florida, the University of Alabama-Birmingham, Drexel University, the University of Connecticut and Penn State University.