Gender in Geoscience Academia: What's the Real Picture?

DE WET, Andrew P., and DE WET, Carol B.
Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, PA, 17604-3003.

The paucity of women in academia is often lamented. During the 1970's only 1% of professors in all ranks in the Geosciences were women. The situation has improved since then, and by 1993 approximately 9% of professors at all levels were women. This figure, however, is still extremely low. One interpretation of the data is that women are being excluded form Geoscience academic ranks. In reality the situation is more complex and more positive. Just looking at the total percentage of women in academic ranks does not tell the whole story. It is more informative to look at the proportion of women at each rank, and temporal variation.

Several factors need to be examined. First: what is the proportion of women obtaining the PhD degree through time? There has been a substantial increase in the proportion of women obtaining PhD's since the 1970's from around 6.5% in 1975 to between 20 and 25% in the 1990's (AGI data). 

Second: does the number of women assistant professors reflect the number of qualified women candidates? This is a much more complex question. We have used a computer model of flow of Geoscientists through the different ranks in academia to try to answer this question. It appears that women were seriously under-represented in the ranks of assistant professors up until the late 1980's (40% below expected numbers) Since then the trend has reversed.

Third: What can we expect for the future? By 1993 women comprised 4.1% of full 11.9% of associate, and 22.6% of assistant professors. The preste4nt increase in the number of women assistant professors would mean an increase in the proportions of women at associate and full professor levels. However, this will take time and the present proportion of over 22% of assistant professors will only be fully reflected in the number of full professors (and overall ranks) by approximately the year 2020!

A careful examination of the distribution of women in academia identifies where the problems lie and where our efforts should be directed to improve the representation of women in Geoscience. The problem at present does not lie in the step from PhD to assistant professor. Rather, part of the issue is in the low proportion of women at the BA (22% in 1978 and 35%1993) and MA levels (18% in 1978 and 28% in 1993). These proportions will need to be improved. Of additional concern is the flattening of the trends in the 1990's. There is also some evidence that in the past relatively more women compared to men dropped out of Deoscience academia or did not get promoted at the same rate as men. It is probably still too early to see if the dramatic increase in women in academia, that began in late 1980's at the assistant professor level, will result in a comparative increase in the number of women in the Geosciences at all ranks. Early evidence indicates that he situation is improving.

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