by Isra Syed
October 14, 2012
On Monday, September 10th, the Women’s Faculty Forum of Yale University released the most updated version of “The View,” a report on the presence of women in faculty and administrative positions at the University. This 49-page report, a compilation of statistics on the positions held by women at Yale’s, demonstrates the striking gender disparities present. Although women make up 50% of the student body at the University-wide level, only 38% of ladder faculty and 24% of tenured faculty are female. And while the percentage of women holding tenured faculty positions has increased from 21% to 24% since 2007, when “The View” was last published, this report underscores the extent to which women remain a minority in Yale’s institutional environment.
The gender disparity among faculty members is especially notable in scientific fields of study. While women comprise 30% and 25% of tenured professors in humanities and social science departments respectively, only 19% of tenured professors in the biological sciences and 11% of tenured professors in the physical sciences are women. These figures situate themselves in a larger national conversation about the underrepresentation of women in science and the factors that are responsible for this disparity. While girls and boys start out studying science in near equal proportions in high school, at each subsequent stage of science education, an increasingly large number of females discontinue their scientific pursuits. This trend is most often attributed to a dearth of female mentors and a larger culture in scientific academia which fails to encourage women to pursue their scientific studies to completion. Additionally, another recent Yale study found that male and female science professors generally consider female undergraduates as less competent than their equally qualified male counterparts, demonstrating a prevalent but implicit bias against women in science. Together, these factors continue to keep women underrepresented in scientific academia, which is reflected in the disparate numbers of men and women in the University’s science departments.
Yet the problem is not limited to the School of Arts and Sciences. There are low numbers of female faculty members in many of Yale’s professional schools. Only 22% of tenured faculty members at the School of Medicine are female, while 35% of tenured faculty members at the remaining professional schools are women. It is also worth note that stark gender disparities also exist among the number of enrolled students at the University’s other schools. For instance, only 37% of students at the School of Management and at the School of Architecture are female, compared to 48% at the Schools of Medicine and Law, and a salient 92% at the School of Nursing.
Another disconcerting insight which the report brings to light is the lack of women of color serving as faculty members. According to the report, minority women constitute only 4% of all tenured faculty members. Only 17% of female tenured faculty members at Yale are not white, while only 28% of minority tenured faculty members are female. Additionally, this scarcity of women of color as faculty members is further amplified in STEM fields—minority women comprise 3% of tenured faculty in the physical sciences, 2.5% of tenured professors at the School of Medicine, and 0% of the biological sciences faculty.
Moreover, the report shows that women are underrepresented as the DUS’s (Directors of Undergraduate Studies), masters, deans, social science and science PhD recipients, Sterling Professors, and administrators of Yale University. It is tempting to simply call the report’s findings unsurprising, although they are, and to ascribe it to the fact that achieving gender equality in an institutional setting is a slow, gradual process. We can hope that this lack of parity is a relic of past barriers against women in the university setting and will slowly disappear as a new generation of younger female academics comes of age. While this may be true, it is necessary to remember that the implications of the report are significant to the climate of the educational ecosystem that we inhabit. A lack of female faculty members translates to fewer female mentors for Yale’s students and contributes to a less rich educational experience. When women, including women of color, are not at the table in the academic discussions occurring at our university, important viewpoints are inevitably left out, and the intellectual environment becomes skewed.
While the Women’s Faculty Forum makes it clear that this is the case, it does not suggest what should be done. Indeed, so long as the structural barriers— a dearth of female mentors, gender biases in the classroom, and a culture which does not emphasize work-life balance—women face in attaining parity in academia, remain in place, it will be difficult for Yale and its peer institutions, which have similar statistics, to achieve gender parity among faculty.
Research is not terribly useful if we do not use its findings to take action. However, structural changes cannot occur without a more fundamental conversation about the state of gender equity at the University. It will first be necessary for students and other members of the Yale community to acknowledge the importance of advancing gender equality. We deserve—and need—to study, live, and work in an environment that embodies the gender equality which it ideally imagines for itself.
Isra Syed is a sophomore in Yale College. She is a contributing writer for Broad Recognition.