Gender Diversity

Though colleges were once the exclusive domain of men, women are hardly scarce on today's campuses. By 2010, women surpassed their male counterparts in earning bachelor's degrees by eight percentage points. In 2009 women earned a majority of doctoral degrees for the first time ever. Yet, as of 2011 women still comprise only 44.4 percent of the instructional workforce, both tenure and non-tenure track positions, and only 30 percent of full professors are women.

Inclusiveness has been growing along with women's educational attainment, but unfortunately not in all sectors. In 2003 women made up the majority (58.3 percent) of the full-time instructional corps in the education field, but only 9.5 percent of full time faculty in engineering. It is in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields where the absence of women in the faculty ranks is so glaringly noticeable. Despite this, women are a narrow majority of degree-earners in STEM fields at the bachelor's level. In 2006 women earned 47.6 percent of the doctorates in the biological and agricultural sciences, 34.3 percent of those in chemistry, and 16.6 percent of those in physics, figures that represent great strides from ten or twenty years before.

As women make the transition from graduate or professional schools into the faculty, they face a number of challenges in the hiring process: inequities in compensation, inadequate family friendly policies, lack of transparency in the hiring process, structural issues brought on by the academic staffing crisis, and a lack of respect for research on women and minorities. Female faculty report feeling less satisfied, more isolated, and less informed about advancement than their male counterparts.

Female academics often report being caught in a gendered double standard where aggressive negotiations over or even simple inquiries into salary information and family leave policies cause them to be perceived negatively where men are seen in a neutral or positive manner for addressing the same issues. Too often the consequence is women accept the first, lower, offer while men negotiate higher starting salaries, this pay gap persists or even widens over the course of their career.

Though the number of women in the instructional workforce grew by 48 percent between 1997 and 2007 the share of women in tenure-track positions actually declined 0.4 percent during that period. Full-time tenure-track faculty who are women comprised only 10.3 percent of the instructional labor force in 2007. In other words, the decades-long trend of state disinvestment in higher education has dramatically impacted the ability of the faculty corps to properly reflect the increased diversity of the student body.

We see the process of effectuating a diverse faculty and staff as an essential element in achieving a greater measure of economic and social justice in America. Our report recommends higher education unions make faculty diversity an important part of their agenda on campus, though this work could be undertaken by other kinds of faculty groups. We believe that unions are uniquely positioned to speak to issues of equity and fairness. This can be done by conducting an inventory to asses the condition of diversity on campus, discussing these conditions with leaders and members, and designating a group of people to coordinate efforts in this area.

To learn more about what AFT recommendations for locals wishing to address gender diversity on their campus, read our report.