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How Can Worcester Promote More Women in Higher Education?

Friday, March 07, 2014

 

Only one of 25 faculty members in Worcester Polytechnic Institute's department of Electrical and Computing Engineering is a woman.

Taking over the reigns July 1, WPI's next president, Laurie Leshin, represents the continuing shift toward more X chromosomes in science. She is currently dean of the School of Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y.

While making significant strides, women remain underrepresented in positions of leadership and full professorships in colleges and universities across the nation, and professionally in the hard sciences often referred to as “STEM” (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) — meaning some of the greatest disparity is evidenced in those fields in academia.

Women earned 46.2 percent of all doctoral degrees awarded by universities in the U.S. in 2012, according to the National Science Foundation — but only one in five doctorates in the broad discipline of engineering.

At the furthest ends of the spectrum, women earned more than 93 percent of nursing science doctorate degrees but only 8 percent of robotics doctorates.

The trend is changing, slowly

With no established biological basis favoring one sex over another in terms of aptitude — or love for robots — the gender difference can be chalked up to social conventions and implicit biases that turn women away from science beginning at an early age.

Terri Camesano, a WPI professor who teaches Chemical Engineering, said the landscape had certainly changed since she was a student in the 1990s.

“I was lucky because even though my PhD advisor was not female, he knew how to be a good mentor and did many things to help encourage me to pursue an academic career,” she said, her advisor inviting female professors to lecture and encouraging Camesano to attend national conferences. “The best way to support women faculty is just to create a healthy and supportive environment for all employees.”

Aparna Mahadev, a Computer Science professor at Worcester State University, began teaching at Fitchburg State University in 1987. “I did not find any difficulties in either (institution). In fact, FSU was very accommodating.”

Mahadev had a child the following summer, and a second in the fall of 1989, and took the fall semester off from teaching following each birth. “The administration had been very understanding about me taking time off to care for my children,” she said. “I was brand new and not yet tenured at that time.”

However, “I did feel that the salary offered to me when I joined FSU was very much below the national standard those days. I believe things have changed since then,” Mahadev continued, saying a faculty member's salary offer had nothing to do with their gender today at WSU.

Local disparity in hard science faculty

With a disproportional pool of potential faculty to choose from, local colleges and universities display the same disparity seen nationally. At Clark University, men comprise approximately two-thirds of the faculty in STEM-related departments.

At WSU, the Chemistry department's chair is a woman but there are twice as many men in the department.

Teaching physics at the College of the Holy Cross, Distinguished Professor of Science Janine Shertzer is the sole woman in the 10-member department.

At WPI, where STEM covers most studies, the gender splits varies from department to department: In Biology & Biotechnology there's an even 50/50 split, while Mathematical Sciences is seven to one predominately male.

It's not just fewer women, but lower pay

Across the nation, female academics remain underpaid compared to their male counterparts, and fill an increasing number of part-time, adjunct positions.

With freshly minted doctorate in hand, the NSF reports the median salary in 2010 was the same between full-time white men and women. (Asian men and women made less, while female underrepresented minorities initially made more.)

Proceeding through their careers, however, male median incomes outpace womens', until 13 years post-doctorate when the difference totals $7,000 between white men and women.

And tallying federal support to full-time faculty at four-year institutions, 40.4 percent of white women had received grants versus 48 percent of white men.

Those varying career trajectories can be partially attributed to biology. In a 2013 book, “Do Babies Matter?: Gender and Family in the Ivory Tower,” authors Mary Ann Mason, Nicholas Wolfinger, and Marc Goulden find that women in academia pay a “baby penalty” over the course of their careers.

Drawing on surveys and original research, the authors found that having children is a career advantage for men while a negative impact to women, who consequently receive little to no support from their institution and often discouragement from mentors.

The hurdles are compounded: Fewer women studying STEM, drawbacks to childbirth and rearing, unfair hiring and tenuring decisions, and concessions to spouses' occupations.

According to Tools for Change, a project of the Center for WorkLife Law in San Francisco, gender bias stems “not from malevolence, but from the perceived mismatch between the 'typical woman' and the requirements of jobs that historically were held by men such as professor, scientist, and investment banker.”

But there has been great progress: In 1993, women held fewer than one in ten full-time, full professorships with science, engineering, and health doctorates; that number was nearly one in four in 2010 according to the NSF.

How can Worcester's higher ed support STEM women?

At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the STEM Diversity Institute works toward diversifying the science-related workforce, serving undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty. Relatedly, the university's College of Natural Sciences offers resources for women scientists.

“There's a lot of movement on this, we have a lot of activity going on to help women to overcome implicit bias,” says Barbara Pearson, a research associate at UMass Amherst. Implicit bias is “an association within our minds that we're not aware of,” she said, and which people don't take steps to overcome.

At WPI this past fall, nine of 24 new full-time faculty and researchers were women. Five of 16 faculty members who were promoted or received tenure were women.

Camesano said WPI had a well-developed faculty mentoring program that was especially valuable to women, and she said the university had built a nationally recognized support system on campus.

Starting young, involving middle-school girls

Two programs at the university — Camp Reach and WPI Tech Girls — reach out to middle-school aged girls in local schools interested in science and math.

“The best way to look at this issue is to frame it as an opportunity to increase the number of girls and women studying science and engineering, and pursuing these careers,” building off of best practices, Camesano said. “The most important factors that I am aware of are good mentoring, the availability of role models, and connecting STEM disciplines to the impact scientists and engineers have on society.”

“To promote better parity, we need to encourage more women in STEM fields — starting at the middle school level in particular,” according to Mahadev. Educators need to “tell them that STEM fields are exciting and not nerdy.”

Programs like Women in Science, organized by the EcoTarium and the University of Massachusetts Medical School, have been doing just that, hosting annual science conferences for local Worcester Public Schools students. 

 

Related Slideshow: Top New England Colleges According to Business Insider

See how New England colleges ranked in the latest Business Insider.

Below is the list of how the region's representatives stacked up against each other -- as well as how they fared overall.  

Prev Next

#13 Wesleyan University

Overall Rank: 49

Location: Middletown, CT

Score: 2.73 out of 5

Tuition and Fees: $47,244

Business Insider: "With roughly 2,900 undergraduates on a 316-acre campus overlooking the Conn. River, Wesleyan uses its small size to provide highly personal faculty support and customizable programs of study to students.

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.
Prev Next

#12 Boston University

Overall Rank: 45

Location: Boston, MA

Score: 2.79 out of 5

Tuition and Fees: $44,910

Business Insider: "A concrete campus located in the bustling city of Boston, BU has nearly 100 study abroad programs in 23 countries, an active social media presence with more than 200 Facebook pages and groups, and 20-plus NCAA Division I varsity sports, including a multiple NCAA national championship-winning hockey team."

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.
Prev Next

#11 Wellesley College

Overall Rank: 44

Location: Wellesley, MA

Score: 2.86 out of 5

Tuition and Fees: $43,544

Business Insider: "Madeleine Albright, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Diane Sawyer are among the nearly 37,000 living alumni of Wellesley College, an institute with an unwavering commitment to empowering women to make a difference in the world. Students are central to decision-making at this liberal arts college: They serve on major committees of the board of trustees, participate in faculty search, and contribute to strategic planning."

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.

Prev Next

#10 Middlebury College

Overall Rank: 40

Location: Middlebury, VT

Score: 2.94 out of 5

Tuition and Fees: $57,075

Business Insider: "Renowned for leadership in language instruction and environmental studies, Middlebury emphasizes close interaction between students and faculty as the core of its education. All courses are taught by faculty members, rather than graduate assistants, and 65% of classes contain fewer than 20 students."

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.
Prev Next

#9 Tufts University

Overall Rank: 37

Location: Medford, MA

Score: 3.07 out of 5

Tuition and Fees: $46,598

Business Insider: "Tufts University encourages students to pursue interdisciplinary studies at its two colleges, the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering. An overwhelming 90% of students are enrolled in the first, which boasts a liberal arts college feel in a research-rich environment."

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.
Prev Next

#8 Boston College

Overall Rank: 36

Location: Boston, MA

Score: 3.09 out of 5

Tuition and Fees: $46,088

Business Insider: "Boston College jumps four spots on our list, thanks in part to its tremendous growth in recent years. Undergraduate applications have soared 75% over the past decade, and voluntary giving by alumni has increased the university's endowment to $1.9 billion."

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.
Prev Next

#7 Amherst College

Overall Rank: 27

Location: Amherst, MA

Score: 3.31 out of 5

Tuition and Fees: $58,744

Business Insider: "Ranked the second-best liberal arts school in the nation, according to U.S. News and World Report, Amherst College climbed four spots on our list this year."

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.
Prev Next

#6 Williams College

Overall Rank: 23

Location: Williamstown, MA

Score: 3.40 out of 5

Tuition and Fees: $46,600

Business Insider: "Williams was number 27 on last year's list, but our readers voted it up to No. 23 this time around. A top liberal arts college, Williams is set to host its own TEDx conference for students and faculty in January 2014."

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.
Prev Next

#5 Brown University

Overall Rank: 20

Location: Providence, RI

Score: 3.60 out of 5

Tuition and Fees: $45,612

Business Insider: "Brown is known for being the most individualistic of the Ivies, and with some of the happiest students."

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.
Prev Next

#4 Dartmouth College

Overall Rank: 9

Location: Hanover, NH

Score: 3.96 out of 5

Tuition and Fees: $46,752

Business Insider: "At 4,200 enrolled undergraduate students, Dartmouth is the smallest of the Ivies. But its size has no bearing on the prestige of its programs; the school was ranked No. 1 in undergraduate teaching courses by U.S. News & World Report for the fourth year in a row."

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.
Prev Next

#3 Yale University

Overall Rank: 5

Location: New Haven, CT

Score: 4.25 out of 5

Tuition and Fees: $44,125

Business Insider: "Our readers were not shy in praising Yale's hardworking professors: 'Yale is still the best ranking... school thanks to it[s] high profile faculty," one respondent pointed out. 'It's them who keep Yale in the top.'"

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.
Prev Next

#2 Harvard University

Overall Rank: 3

Location: Cambridge, MA

Score: 4.42 out of 5

Tuition and Fees: $42,292

Business Insider: "For the third year in a row, Harvard has held fast at No. 3. Harvard's most popular majors (or "concentrations," as they're called there) are economics and political science, and the Crimson school has been hailed for its think-outside-the-box approach to learning."

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.

Prev Next

#1 MIT

Overall Rank: 1

Location: Cambridge, MA

Score: 4.5 out of 5

Tuition and Fees: $42,050

Business Insider: "The tech school admits fewer than 9 percent of applicants, some of whom have gone on to achieve prestigious awards like Nobel Prizes, National Medals of Science, MacArthur Grants, and National Medals of Technology and Innovation."

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.

 
 

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