Change needed for women
on science and engineering faculty
A climate study about women science and engineering faculty members
on campus has found a sometimes chilly and negative working environment,
a lack of leadership roles and mentoring, and the need for greater
recruitment and retention.
|Abigail Stewart and Mary Sue Coleman prepare
to speak at an event announcing the results of a study about
women in science and engineering. (Photo by Marcia Ledford,
U-M Photo Services)
Results of the study, part of a $3.7 million ADVANCE grant from
the National Science Foundation (NSF), were announced Thursday at
an event attended by about 280 people. The University is one of
only a handful of research universities to announce publicly the
results of such a study, which relied on quantitative and qualitative
data collected from female scientists and engineers, male faculty
in the same fields and female social scientists.
Women scientists and engineers reported higher rates of unwanted
sexual attention and gender discrimination than their male counterparts,
as well as other factors that contributed to a climate that was
more negative than what was reported by men.
˝We need to do something about this,ţ said Abigail Stewart, director
of the project, a professor of psychology and women═s studies, and
associate dean for Academic Affairs in LS&A. Of the 41 percent of
women reporting gender discrimination and the 20 percent reporting
unwanted advances, she said, ˝these were very disturbingly high
Medical School Dean Allen Lichter noted that a woman has never
been a department chair in the Medical School. Now, he said, the
school is actively searching for several.
˝If we can═t begin to bring women into senior leadership positions
now, we═re doing something wrong,ţ he said. ˝I═m putting myself
on the line; we are going to change this record.ţ
In the study, women respondents rated their departments more negatively
than male respondents in many categories. ˝Faculty meetings were
typical of the treatment of women from all walks of life,ţ a respondent
reported. ˝I would say something and no one would listen. Another
(man) would speak up with exactly the same thing I had said and
everyone would say, ´What a great idea.═ţ
Other findings include:
- Female assistant professors in science and engineering received
substantially less mentoring than other groups.
- While women had a higher rate of service on formal committees
than men, they did not chair the committees at a higher rate.
- Women in these fields received fewer items in their renegotiated
contracts than their male counterparts.
Unlike similar studies at other universities, this is a baseline
study that will be used to measure advances in the future. The University
should use the study as a basis for improving the climate for women
scientists and engineers on the faculty, and for bringing in more
female faculty members in those fields, speakers said at the event.
˝Unfortunately a welcoming environment remains rare,ţ President
Mary Sue Coleman said. ˝This is a problem that we must solve. ...
I have no doubt that we will make giant strides in our unfinished
journey at Michigan.ţ
The ADVANCE program awarded nine institutional transformation grants
to ensure fuller participation and advancement of women faculty
in science and engineering, including the grant U-M received in
At U-M and nationally, the number of women on the tenure track
in science and engineering has lagged far behind gains made by women
in non-science fields. According to the NSF, women earn 40 percent
of all doctorates in the United States, but they make up 22 percent
of the science and engineering workforce in general and less than
20 percent of the science and engineering faculty at four-year colleges
Last spring, members of the ADVANCE committee said preliminary
results showed that U-M women in these fields face more challenges
than women in other disciplines and significantly more career obstacles
than men in science and engineering.
Recommendations in the study include increasing critical mass of
women on the science and engineering faculty by recruiting and retaining
more of them; ensuring that family-friendly policies are widely
known and improved where needed; increasing mentoring through formal
and informal programs; and ensuring that departments and colleges
have clear and transparent policies and procedures for minimizing
Stewart is optimistic that the University will make some necessary
changes as a result of the study. ˝I certainly think it═s going
to be a great next five years,ţ she said. The full report is at