Gender Differences in University Administrators’ Perspectives on Policies for Women in STEM

By: Yendi Neil

University administrators manage the policies and activities of the university, guiding the organization in strategic directions. For example, administrators can influence the population of the university faculty by allocating resources and power to affect representation.

Williams and colleagues (2017) surveyed 1,529 administrators across 96 public and private universities in the United States. Participants rated 44 strategies (i.e. policies and recommendations) designed to facilitate women engagement and success in faculty STEM positions on their feasibility and potential to improve women’s representation in STEM fields. Strategies focused on six main areas: addressing gender biases during hiring, addressing gender biases after hiring, attaining tenure and maintaining productivity, balancing work and family, providing leadership and training opportunities, and supporting greater flexibility for federal grants and funding. The strategies rated as most effective by both genders were: “providing on-campus childcare centers” and “offering equal opportunities for women and men to lead committees and research groups.” The first strategy shows the struggles that both women and men face having young children not yet in school. The second strategy shows the push for developing programs to mentor and help female faculty by reducing isolation between the genders (Williams et al., 2017).

Overall, female administrators rated the strategies as more effective for attracting and retaining women than did their male counterparts. Looking at the specific strategies, six of the 44 strategies showed gender differences in how male and female administrators viewed their effectiveness. Three of these strategies related to the flexibility of grants (e.g., grant supplementing family leave hires, grants supporting dependent care travel, grant-based supplements to offset productivity loss during family-related absences), two focused on the tenure process (rewarding service and teaching more heavily, supporting a shared tenure line for partners), and the last focused on increasing institutionally supported research on gender. For all of these strategies, female administrators rated them as more effective than their male counterparts. Regarding the feasibility of strategies, the story is less clear. There were no overall gender differences in ratings of feasibility, and only three strategies showed gender differences in their ratings. Women were more likely to rate stopping fathers’ tenure clocks and supporting partner-shared tenure lines as more feasible, whereas men were more likely to rate having women chair search committees as more feasible.

These results may suggest that having women representation at the administration level may bring a unique perspective on how to attract and retain women to STEM faculty positions.

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