Why higher ed needs to hire and promote more women faculty

An overabundance of men are tenure-track faculty members in comparison to women, report says

An inadequate percentage of female professors fill tenure-track positions—especially among higher ranks, according to a recent survey by CUPA-HR, the association for higher ed HR professionals.

The report that uncovered this example of gender bias in higher education examines the implications of aging demographics in tenure-track faculty on succession and diversity.

Most notably, authors found that only 45% of tenure-track faculty are women professors aged 55 or younger and even less (35%) are older women.

Across ranks, the percentage of female professors declines steadily with age. Just over half of faculty aged 25-30 years old are women. This number falls below one-third in the 65-70 age range. The authors say this occurs due to a drop in female faculty holding full-time positions as they get older.

“Faculty’s job is mentoring the next generation of the professional workforce, so female college students need to see and learn from their women role models in these positions,” says Amy Diehl of Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, who is speaking on gender bias at the Women in Technology pre-conference at UB Tech® 2020. “Full-time faculty also participate in research, and without women researchers, you will start to see women’s needs and concerns deprioritized,” adds Diehl, who is associate vice President and chief information technology officer at Shippensburg.

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Creating researching barriers to women faculty can result in, for example, the recommended doses of prescription medication failing to account for the average weight of women, who tend to weigh less than men and may therefore require lower doses.

“Similarly, in my profession as chief information officer, the women serving in these top roles tend to be older than men who hold the same position,” says Diehl, whose keynote at UB Tech will cover recognizing unconscious gender bias in the workplace at UB Tech 2020.

Attaining gender equality in higher education

Ensuring that college and university leaders hire equitably is an important step but, alone, is not enough to address gender bias in higher education, says Diehl. “All departments must have an inclusive atmosphere that supports women throughout their career.”

This involves realizing and then addressing all unconscious biases. “Leaders have to take a step back, talk to women faculty and look at the institutional practices that are holding them back,” she says. “If they don’t do anything, the status quo of this inequitable playing field will persist and we will continue to see similar numbers such as the ones in CUPA-HR’s report.”

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