Experts discuss gender inequality in academia

By Alissa Groeninger

While girls score higher on standardized testing in almost every area, women still lag behind men in key academic positions.

In September, the Columbia University Business School held a conference to discuss why women in certain careers fail to achieve their goals. Many researchers presented projects and findings to offer possible explanations that will allow others to continue studying this trend.

Carol Livingstone, associate provost and director of Division of Management Information, said it is important to have female staff members to provide role models for female students.

“(You need to see someone) who’s similar to you . who’s achieved something you can emulate,” she said.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, a sector of the United States Department of Education, there were 401,507 male and 274,117 female faculty members in degree-granting institutions in 2005. However, almost 32 percent of the male faculty members compared with 15 percent of females faculty members were professors, which is a profession considered the highest ranking in the study. The rest of the employees surveyed included associate professors, assistant professors, lecturers and instructors.

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The University has had trouble attracting and retaining female faculty members.

According to a 1999 study by the Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of Women, which researched how women were faring on campus compared with men, women represented 11 percent of full-time professors.

“Women are the middle-level managers, not the CEOs,” said Claudia Goldin, economics professor at Harvard.

According to the University’s 2007-2008 campus profile, the majority of women on the academic faculty were assistant professors, which are ranked under tenured faculty, professors and associate professors. Women represent 29 percent of tenured faculty.

Goldin, who attended the summit, said the inflexible hours and need for travel in the corporate world and certain academic areas are not compatible with having children. Women have found more success in medical fields and have been able to balance their careers and family, Goldin said.

“They seem to manage the balance much better,” she said.

Women also do well as veterinarians, ophthalmologists and pharmacists, filling 70 percent of the jobs in those fields, Goldin added.

Karen Flynn, gender and women’s studies professor at the University, said women often suffer in the work force because they are considered responsible for child care and childrearing, which impacts whether female faculty members would receive tenure or other higher-level positions.

“(The) people who are responsible for the socialization of children (encourage) certain gender roles,” said Flynn. “Gender socialization plays a factor in every aspect of our lives.”

Female academic faculty members represent the smallest fraction of women in the work force who have children, Goldin said. Smaller percentages of female professors get married, compared with other professions, and many of those who get married do so later in life, she added. This is due to the uncertainty involved in academic careers, such as relocation and time commitment.

While women do have trouble achieving higher level academic positions, women working in Ivy League institutions are beginning to push boundaries, Goldin said. She added that more women have been hired as presidents and provost chancellors.

At the University, the Equal Opportunity Office has taken steps to ensure no discrimination takes place in the hiring process, Livingstone said.

“(They) make sure they bring a diverse group of people to campus,” she added.

The University advertises positions to all qualified candidates and conducts searches to find representatives of both genders and all races, Livingstone said. In addition, the University has expanded its day care space to attract faculty members with children.

“(We) try to make campus more attractive to women,” Livingstone said.

Male and female professors with children have an additional year to qualify for tenured status.

“I don’t know if one article can do justice to how complicated this is,” Flynn said.