Women in STEM Faculty Positions Part 1/3: The Facts

The treatment of underrepresented minorities in various aspects of life such as justice, education, and employment has emerged as an important conversation in recent years. The injustices faced by these minorities need to be discussed in order to implement systematic and institutional change to the more equitable and inclusive treatment of minorities. One such conversation has been sparked in higher education and is centered on the treatment of women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) faculty positions. There are many programs that have been created to recruit more females into STEM fields at the high school, college, and university levels. However, it is questionable whether the same effort has been made to help those very females advance in their careers. The focus cannot just be on the recruitment of more women into STEM fields, but it needs to extend to the retention and advancement of their careers once they complete their education. 

This three-part series of blog posts will focus on how women in STEM faculty positions are treated and what the barriers to their success are. In this first installment, the facts of how institutions treat female STEM faculty will be presented. This assessment will help to uncover the disparities of hiring, promotion, and salaries between men and women in STEM fields.

An assessment of the statistics on women in stem faculty* positions

To begin understanding how women in STEM faculty positions are treated, the available statistics are assessed. Looking at the statistics allows for objective assessment of how hiring and promoting practices among institutes of higher learning are biased against or for women. There are two aspects to be considered here: (1) how far are we from equal representation of males and females across STEM fields?; and (2) how far are we from equitable treatment of males and females in STEM fields?

The American Society for Engineering Education publishes an annual report called Engineering and Engineering Technology by the Numbers. [1]  In Fig. 1, the percentage of female tenured/tenure-track faculty are shown by discipline. In the disciplines shown in the figure, we can see that female tenured/tenure-track faculty comprise no more than 30 percent of the tenured/tenure-track faculty. Even 30 percent is high when looking at the chart, as in many disciplines we see that this number is usually around 20 percent. The argument could be made that perhaps there are not enough women in these fields, thus they only make up one-fifth of the tenured/tenure-track faculty. But, the underlying reason as to why there is not more recruitment or retainment of women in STEM fields goes into more of a subjective discussion which will be included in the second blog post.

Figure 1. Percentage of Female Tenured/Tenure-Track Faculty by Discipline. [1]

Ceci et al. show how employment of females in STEM faculty positions has changed from 1973 to 2010. [2] They use data from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to show that female employment in different STEM fields has increased over the 27-year period. In Fig. 2 we see this trend of increased female faculty employment, however, there are higher numbers of females in assistant professor positions and this did not translate over into the females in tenured and tenure-track faculty positions. From this information, it can be observed that females in these fields are not easily able to transition from assistant professor positions to tenured and tenure-track faculty positions (this includes the titles of associate and full professor). 

Figure 2. Females in STEM faculty positions broken down by field: (a) Percentage Female Among Tenure-Track Assistant Professors (b) Percentage Female Among Tenured and Tenure-Track Faculty. [2]

In Fig. 3, the results are shared by Gumpertz et al. in their analysis of four land grant insitutions. [3] They divided the STEM fields into four categories: (1) Agriculture and Natural Resources, (2) Biological and Biomedical Sciences, (3) Engineering, and (4) Physical and Math Sciences. The percentage of female assistant professors at these insitutions in each category is presented along with the percent of faculty in each group. At LG1, we can see that females comprise only 19% of the 124 assistant professors in engineering. At LG1, LG3, and LG4, female assistant professors consitute only one-fourth of the total number of assistant professors. At LG2, women hold one-third of the assistant professor positions, which is a step closer in the direction of equal representation.

Figure 3. Number of female assistant professors in STEM at four land-grant institutions broken down into four categories: (1)  agricultural and natural resources, (2) biological and biomedical sciences, (3) engineering, and (4) physical and math sciences. [3]

The median salaries of faculty by gender, field, and faculty rank are also investigated in Fig. 4. [4]  The Society of Women Engineers put together this chart based on data  collected in 2017 by the NSF National Center for Science and Enginering Statistics. In general, in engineering and computer and information sciences, women are paid less across all positions. The only exception here is that female associate professors in engineering are paid four percent more than their male counterparts. The reasons for these discrepancies are unknown. There should not be a pay gap between men and women in these fields. For equitable treatment, all employees at the same rank should be paid equally. It is important to have female representation across STEM fields, but it is of equal importance to ensure that males and females in STEM fields are paid the same if they have the same experience level and rank. The gender pay gap needs to be closed.

Figure 4. Median salaries of faculty, by gender, field, and faculty rank. [4]

Women in STEM faculty positions are, in general, underrepresented and underpaid. The next post will go into subjective assessment of women in STEM faculty positions and include reflections from those who are in those positions and those aspiring for a faculty position.

*Faculty: In this post, and in the following posts, faculty will refer to anyone in assistant, associate, and full professor positions. Some of the papers referenced in this post use faculty to describe tenured and tenure-track faculty, and specifically call out tenure-track assistant professors.


[1] American Society for Engineering Education. (2020). Engineering and Engineering Technology by the Numbers 2019. Washington, DC.

[2] Ceci, S. J., Ginther, D. K., Kahn, S., & Williams, W. M. (2014). Women in Academic Science: A Changing Landscape. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 15(3), 75–141. https://doi.org/10.1177/1529100614541236

[3] Gumpertz M, Durodoye R, Griffith E, Wilson A (2017) Retention and promotion of women and underrepresented minority faculty in science and engineering at four large land grant institutions. PLOS ONE 12(11): e0187285. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0187285

[4] https://research.swe.org/2016/08/tenure-tenure-track-faculty-levels/

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