October 27, 2014

Cornell Seeks to Increase Female Hires, Retention

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Cornell is making efforts to hire more women and increase retention for female professors, according to Yael Levitte, associate vice provost for faculty development and diversity.

Last year women made up only 29.2 percent of all of Cornell’s tenure track and tenured faculty. However, women constituted 43.8 percent of new faculty hires in the current academic year — which will increase the number of tenured women going forward.

“Our efforts to hire women are increasingly successful and in a decade, we’d expect that the proportion of women among all faculty will therefore increase, as they get tenure and get promoted,” Levitte said.

This figure has already been increasing, albeit steadily. In 2008, women made up 26.2 percent and 22.6 percent in 2001, according to the Cornell Factbook, which collects and publishes yearly counts about faculty and colleges. The Factbook excludes adjunct, visiting and emeritus professors and Weill Cornell Medical College faculty.

A higher proportion of women serve as assistant and associate professors rather than as full professors, according to Levitte. In fall 2013, out of 476 women professors, 22.4 percent serve as assistant professors; 35.5 percent serve as associate professors; and 42 percent serve as full professors.

In comparison, out of 1,152 male professors, 14.8 percent serve as assistant professors; 24.8 percent serve as associate professors; and 60.4 percent serve as full professors.

“In a decade, we’d expect that the proportion of women among all faculty … will increase, as they get tenure and get promoted.” — Yael Levitte

According to Levitte, women serve in assistant and associate professorships at higher rates than men do partially because more women are graduating with Ph.D.s and entering the academic workforce. In the College of Engineering, 16.6 percent of faculty are women, but 38 percent of assistant professors are women.

“You’d expect to see more women in younger cohorts because there are also more women in the Ph.D. ‘pipeline’ of the more recent hires,” Levitte said.

However, the ‘pipeline’ of women with Ph.D.s to a full professorship is “leaky” in many places, according to Prof. Marjolein van der Meulen, chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering.

“For many people, you’re around 26 or 27 when you get a Ph.D. Then you get a postdoc, which adds a couple of years and before you know it, you’re 30 and starting a job that has a tenure clock,” van der Meulen said. “For many women, that’s when they want to start family, which is why some women choose not to take an academic position.”

The Factbook does not publish faculty information for individual colleges. However, according to faculty listings on each college’s web page — which may not be consistently updated — the gender ratio varies significantly depending on the college.

The faculty of College of Architecture, Art and Planning is approximately 27 percent women. Similarly, the School of Hotel Administration has a faculty made up of approximately 28 percent women.

Industrial Labor Relations and the College of Human Ecology boast higher percentages — approximately 37 percent and 50 percent respectively. These figures include adjunct, visiting and emeritus professors.

Ensuring that women are not only hired but also promoted is important, since professors in senior positions often set the tone of the department, according to van der Meulen.

“Studies have found that male voices are perceived as more authoritative than female voices reading the same material. That’s a pretty strong endorsement for thinking about the role of gender in academia,” van der Muelen said. “The leadership should know what these gender bases are and what we can do about them.”

The retention of women professors is also an important area, according to Levitte. Since results of 2005 and 2010 Faculty Work Life Surveys indicated that female faculty are less satisfied with their jobs than male faculty are, the University has taken steps to address the need for a “career life balance.”

In the 2010 survey, male faculty members responded that they were “very satisfied” with their jobs 7 percent more than female faculty members do, The Sun previously reported.

According to Levitte, the University has adopted a tenure clock extension policy, where any faculty who has a child gets an automatic year added to their tenure clock — the number of years it takes an associate professor to become a full professor.

In addition, Provost Kent Fuchs instituted a policy that aims to ensure that all faculty have the opportunity to participate in decision making processes. The policy states that faculty meetings must take place at optimal meeting hours. In the past, many departments started meetings at 4:30 p.m., which burdened professors who had child or elder care responsibilities, according to Levitte.