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The number of women in some academia disciplines like computer science remains low despite the continuous efforts to increase it. What is being done to make academic careers in computer science (and related fields) more appealing to women? Are there any studies on the ways of improving the working conditions for women in academia?

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Please, let's refrain from using comments like a chat-room/forum. The majority of comments say little more than "I don't have an answer, but let's chat." That's the problem with questions like these in the context of a Q&A. It's just a discussion starter, more than anything else. –  Robert Cartaino Jul 3 '12 at 16:59
This question is very broad. If you could restrict it to a specific situation, it might fly, but as currently asked you could write an entire book (or PhD thesis!) to answer it… –  F'x Jan 23 '13 at 19:33
I don't want to start an edit “war”, but I think the only part of the question that could fit the site format is the second part: “Are there any studies on the ways of improving the working conditions for women in academia?” I thus propose to edit the question as: Like many professions, academia is a challenging environment for women. In some disciplines (e.g. computer science), the number of women remains low despite efforts to increase it. Have there been any academic studies on the ways of improving the working conditions for women, specifically focussing on women in academia? –  F'x Jan 24 '13 at 9:38

4 Answers 4

I imagine actual studies will be few and far between - they'd be difficult to conduct, and I suspect the reasons behind many of the outcomes would be near impossible to establish with a degree of certainty. For example, if a woman leaves academia because she got saddled with tons of committee work, student advising and other activities, and is denied tenure, was she just unproductive? Did she get saddled with those duties because she is a woman?

Beyond funding initiatives, which StrongBad discussed a bit, I think there are some very serious "quality of life" considerations that impact the retention of women in academia:

  • "Mommy Tracking" (A "mommy track" is when a woman is put on a particular career trajectory as a result of having, or planning to have children. While it may involve flexible work arrangements, it is often at the expense of her professional career and may involve limited advancement opportunities, being regarded as "less serious about research", etc.) While now notorious enough that it ought to be a thing of the past, penalizing female academics for having children - or the possibility that they might have children - forces women to make a Family vs. Career choice that most male academics never have to make. Faced with this dilemma, some female academics will choose family, resulting in a higher attrition rate among women. Worse, some promotion committees, etc., will effectively make the choice for them.This report goes over some of this.
  • For those female academics who do have children, consider providing things like breastfeeding rooms or daycare at major conferences.
  • Actively questioning our own implicit biases. If your field has a large number of women in it (like my own), the panels at conferences, the awardees, society officers, etc. should have a fairly large number of women in them. Even for fields with less women in them - if 10% of your field is female, but none of your invited speakers for a major conference are, that might indicate some implicit bias in how people construct panels, think about the luminaries in their field, etc. Looking at things like panel composition and asking "Do we have any women? If not, why not?" is a useful exercise. Note this is not a quota system. The answer may be that no women applied for an award this year. Or that everyone who published on this aspect of a subfield this year happened to be a man. But it also might not be. This kind of thing will impact both the careers of the women chosen, but also allow women who are junior in the field to see "people like them" as big names in the field, which has been shown to be important.
  • Stemming from the above, avoid tokenism. The female faculty you do have shouldn't have higher burdens of committee work, etc. because "We need a woman on the X committee and you're the only one" while their male colleagues are left free to do research.
  • Make academia unfriendly to sexist statements. Actually speak up when you hear them. Don't dismiss it as "Oh, X doesn't have any social skills, but they're a brilliant researcher..." when it's driving away other brilliant researchers who don't want to be treated as if they are sex objects (unwelcome flirting, comments on their appearance, etc), or have their accomplishments and contributions dismissed because of their gender.
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Thanks! May I ask for two edits? In the first bullet point, could you separate out the Do's from the Don'ts more clearly? In the last bullet point, I was reading along very sympathetically until I got to the last two words -- the whole sex object thing is only the tip of the iceberg. Could you expand that bullet point a bit? –  aparente001 Sep 10 at 21:20
This is by far the best answer, also this study shows implicit bias in academia –  daaxix Sep 10 at 21:35
@aparente001 Sure. –  Fomite Sep 10 at 22:20
@Fomite - Thanks for editing the last bullet point -- much stronger now. I have proposed some edits to the first bullet point, please see what you think. –  aparente001 Sep 11 at 3:19
@aparente001 Editing your definition of Mommy Track slightly, because the current language makes it sound like it's a positive thing, but otherwise, yes. –  Fomite Sep 11 at 3:48

Studies of the nature you are referring to are often published by The National Academies Press. While the print versions must be purchased, NAP provides Electronic Versions in PDF form or online reading for free.

This study, Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering is slightly dated as it was published in 2007, but likely is just as relevant today.

Gender Differences at Critical Transitions in the Careers of Science, Engineering, and Mathematics Faculty is from 2010 and deals with the differences in career tracks between men and women in the sciences

Seeking Solutions: Maximizing American Talent by Advancing Women of Color in Academia from 2013 explores the specific challenges that women of color face and explores recommendations to promote inclusion in that community.

To Recruit and Advance: Women Students and Faculty from 2006 discuss best practices on how to attract women to STEM roles in academia.

Some of these are a few hundred pages, so there is a substantial amount of material to get you started. I hope that you find these helpful.

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NIH and NSF have efforts to encourage women to enter, and stay in, biomedical sciences (NIH) and science and engineering (NSF) careers. I am not sure to what extent these efforts are evidenced based. I am not aware of to what extent the IEEE, DOD, etc. have formalized their "inclusion" efforts.

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In the U.K. there is the Athena Swann initiative which aim to "encourage and recognise commitment to combating this underrepresentation and advancing the careers of women in STEMM research and academia." –  Dikran Marsupial Mar 9 at 15:27
@DikranMarsupial -- I invite you to write an Answer using this information. –  aparente001 Sep 11 at 3:20

I like this very much: Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, published by the American Association of University Women (AAUW).

There's the full report and some succinct versions, including a power point presentation. On each slide showing a graph, there are several Do's highlighted on the right with animation. Excellent, very helpful.

My pet peeve, the lack of opportunities for girls to play with three-dimensional construction toys, gets prominent mention.

(The implicit bias questionnaire they linked to was weird!)

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This is a link-only answer, which isn't so helpful (for the reasons described here.) If that one link ever dies, this answer becomes a disappointing dead end! Can you edit this post to include some of the highlights of that resource you link to? –  ff524 Sep 18 at 5:25
@ff524 - I felt just that sort of frustration with AMR's answer. Only in that case, I couldn't even link to the full text now. I will add one tidbit, but that's all, because their presentation is so comprehensive and well done, and the power point is already a succinct summary of their full report. I should have at least provided the title of the organization and the report, though. That I can fix. –  aparente001 Sep 19 at 4:47

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