What Can Your Campus Do to Close the Tenure Gender Gap?

Posted by Josh Young on 26 January 2017 |

what can your campus do to close the tenure gender gapWhen evaluating the ratio of men and women who hold tenured positions in higher education, a pattern quickly emerges. While women comprise 48.4 percent of all tenure-track positions, they hold only 37.5 percent of actual tenured positions. Conversely, women are nearly 1.5 times more likely to be employed in non-tenure track roles in academia.

To partially explain this disparity, we can look to a survey conducted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which found that 52 percent of female respondents with doctoral degrees in the sciences had encountered gender bias during their careers compared to only 2 percent of male respondents.

A Family Affair

However, research indicates that this gender gap is caused by more than blatant discrimination. One study found that family commitments, particularly marriage and childbirth, accounted for the largest drop in female Ph.D. recipients who pursued tenured positions in the sciences.

On average, married women with children and a doctorate were 35 percent less likely to enter a tenure-track position than their male counterparts. The research further suggests that concerns about maintaining a healthy work/life balance can discourage students from even considering tenured positions long before they receive their degree.

In fact, only 28 percent of female doctoral students and 44 percent of male doctoral students viewed tenure-track careers at research-intensive institutions as "family friendly."

Show Your Work

Gender disparity in the publishing of research and scholarly work also seems to be a factor.

One study found that not only are women less likely to publish, but only 17 percent of single-authored papers are written by women. Further, in fields where author position carries prestige in multi-author papers -- routinely the first and last positions -- female researchers are routinely underrepresented.

Similar studies found that women are also less likely to engage in self-citation -- with 31 percent of male faculty and only 21 percent of female faculty engaging in the practice.

Given the weight that publishing and citation hold in tenure discussions and overall career advancement, these deficits routinely place women at a distinct disadvantage.

Lack of Leadership

A recently published paper that was focused on the gender disparity among tenured economics professors suggests that the lack of women in leadership and other high-profile academic positions may also serve as a disincentive to pursue tenure. Specifically, that with fewer female faculty in place, "supporting and mentoring networks may not be as abundant to female [students] in largely male-dominated fields.”

What Can Your Campus Do to Encourage Gender Parity?

Revisit your staffing guidelines -- hiring, promotion, tenure -- with an inclusive lens. By removing artificial barriers from the career tracks of female professors, your campus can better encourage their participation in the pursuit of tenure.

Identify and remove practices that could be unintentionally discriminatory. And consider implementing more family-friendly policies, such as parental leave for both male and female faculty or extending tenure clocks for staff with young children.

Offer education that can help staff -- particularly those involved in career decisions -- to identify their own unconscious biases, and provide them with tools and strategies to accommodate these assumptions.

If possible, remove names and other identifying information from documents used for discussion in job performance, advancement, and hiring (e.g., curriculum vitae, letters of recommendation). Develop guidelines that remove a single faculty member's discretion (and their potential unconscious biases) from career-influencing decisions, such as grant approval or tenure review.

At the same time, it might be a wise idea to revisit existing wage plans, particularly what factors drive salary increases and career advancement.

Bring in a labor statistician -- assuming you don't have one on campus -- to review your current faculty and salary distributions, using this information to determine underlying factors that drive any pay or position disparities on your campus. After all, not all instances of inequity can be attributed to bias or discrimination.


Rather than a single, concrete reason for any existing gender gap, there are a multitude of factors that can contribute to this inequity. Whatever measures you take, by reducing the potential impact of bias from a faculty member's career path, your campus can better encourage long-term participation and tenure achievement from women and other under-represented groups.

If you'd like to promote diversity and inclusion on your campus, find out how Campus Answers can help by filling out the form on the right to request a demo of our services.

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