Universities biased against women faculty, report says

Universities in the United States are generally biased against women faculty in pay, promotion and awards, according to a government and private-sponsored report released this week.

"Compared with men, women faculty members are generally paid less and promoted more slowly, receive fewer honors, and hold fewer leadership positions. These discrepancies do not appear to be based on productivity, the significance of their work, or any other performance measures," the report says.

"Measures of success underlying performance evaluation systems are often arbitrary and frequently applied in ways that place women at a disadvantage. 'Assertiveness,' for example, may be viewed as a socially unacceptable trait for women but suitable for men," it says.

Women have earned more than half of the bachelor's degrees awarded in science and engineering since 2000, yet among those with a science or engineering Ph.D. four times more men than women hold full-time faculty positions, according to the report.

The study suggests that university executives require academic departments to show evidence of having conducted fair and broad talent searches before approving appointments and hold departments accountable for the equity of their search processes and outcomes.

University leaders also should develop hiring, tenure and promotion policies that take into account the flexibility some faculty members may need, for instance supporting campus programs that help faculty who have children, the report says.

The study was sponsored by the Office of Research on Women's Health at the National Institutes of Health; Eli Lilly and Co.; the National Science Foundation; the Ford Foundation; and the National Academies, composed of private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology and health policy advice under a congressional charter.

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