Chronicle of Higher Education op-ed: Why Are There So Few Women Full Professors?, by Kimberly A. Hamlin (Miami):
Women comprise the majority of college students, graduate students, and assistant professors, but just 36 percent of full professors in the U.S. are women. For women of color and for mothers, the odds of becoming full professor are significantly lower, and in many STEM fields, including medical schools, women comprise less than 30 percent of full professors. In addition to the disparity in numbers, research by Alisa Hicklin Fryar at the University of Oklahoma shows a substantial pay gap as well: Male full professors at research-intensive schools earn on average $10,000 more a year than their female peers.
To help me think through what it means for women to be full professors, I posted a query on Twitter, asking for other women’s experiences with the promotion process. I was overwhelmed with replies. The most common response was from women reporting that they are the first, or even the only, female full professors in their departments. Women have been earning Ph.D.s since the 1870s; how is it possible for so many women to still be the “firsts” or “onlys” in their departments? ...
A recent study shows that just 27 percent of academics who are mothers, compared with 48 percent of fathers, achieve tenure — to say nothing of promotion to full professor. In fact, according to the American Association of University Women, while 70 percent of tenured male professors have children, only 44 percent of tenured women do. Worse still, policies intended to benefit mothers, such as maternity leave, tend instead to benefit new fathers, who use the break from teaching to advance their research. Many mothers replied to my Twitter post that they had given up on becoming full professors, understanding that this goal remains out of reach for most mothers.
he lack of gender parity among full professors is not primarily a pipeline problem (women comprise 45 percent of associate professors); it’s a timing problem. While women earn tenure at nearly the same rate as men, there is a significant divide in research productivity post-tenure. It is one thing to hold on to one’s ambitious research agenda for six years in one’s 30s. It is quite another to sustain an ambitious research agenda into one’s 40s when care for growing children often collides with care for elders. Within the academy — perhaps more so than other fields requiring an advanced degree such as law, medicine, or business — the burden of caregiving falls on women who generally do not have the financial means to hire additional help. ...
The obstacle to parity is not a lack of solutions; it is a lack of institutional will. What if instead of saddling female associate professors with a disproportionate amount of committee service, women were given more flexibility in the timing of our research? What if universities rewarded administrators and departments for not only hiring diverse faculty members but also retaining and promoting them?
Is lack of diversity among full professors the biggest problem facing the academy? Surely not. But diversifying full professors is a relatively low-cost fix with high-impact reverberations across all other aspects of university life, including overall diversity and more robust, representative research.