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Tenure, Not Hiring, Is Chief Bottleneck to STEM Faculty Diversification

Report: “Faculty Hiring and Tenure by Sex and Race: New Evidence From a National Survey”

Authors: Mark R. Connolly, associate research scientist, and the assistant researchers You-Geon Lee and Julia N. Savoy, all at the University of Wisconsin at Madison’s Wisconsin Center for Education Research

Summary: The researchers examined the career trajectories of people with doctorates in the STEM disciplines — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — and related fields to try to determine why women and black or Hispanic people remain especially underrepresented in college faculty positions in those areas. The analysis used recent data from the Survey of Doctorate Recipients, a long-term National Science Foundation study that collects information on doctoral recipients in the STEM fields, social sciences, psychology, and economics over the course of their lives.

The researchers looked at about 31,300 doctoral recipients surveyed from 1993 to 2010, examining both their likelihood of obtaining tenure-track positions and their likelihood of obtaining tenure. The researchers were scheduled to present their findings on Friday at the American Educational Research Association’s annual conference, in Chicago.

As a whole, the researchers found, doctoral recipients are most likely to get a tenure-track position two years after earning their Ph.D.’s, with their odds then steadily dropping to less than 1 percent after 10 years.

When it came to landing tenure-track jobs in their field, women and members of minority groups considered underrepresented appeared to be at a significant advantage. Black and Hispanic doctorate holders were both quicker and, respectively, 51 percent and 30 percent more likely than their white counterparts to obtain such positions. Asian doctorate holders were slowest to land such positions and 33 percent less likely than whites to obtain them. Women were quicker, and 10 percent more likely than men, to get tenure-track jobs, although the picture varied somewhat by family status, with single men and women who had children under age 6 being at a distinct disadvantage.

The picture changed markedly when it came to getting tenure, which tenure-track professors, on the whole, were most likely to receive at about the seven-year mark. Non-Asian minority members and women were slower to receive tenure, and black assistant professors were substantially less likely to ever receive it. Women with children under age 6 again appeared to be at a disadvantage.

Bottom Line: Getting more women and members of underrepresented minority groups into tenured positions as STEM professors is going to require looking beyond the hiring process and dealing with obstacles to their promotion.

Correction (4/19/2015, 10:31 a.m.): This article originally misidentified Ms. Savoy’s position. She is an assistant researcher.

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