Women STEM Faculty Less Satisfied

November 29, 2011

Each month this year, AAUW is teaming up with Nature Publishing Group, one of the world’s leading science publishers, to put together an online forum on women in science. The AAUW posts highlight findings from our 2010 research report, Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, now in its third printing.

This month during AAUW week, I am going to write specifically about the research covered in Why So Few on female faculty in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, a subject close to the heart for many of you.

The number of women faculty in STEM disciplines has increased over time, but as you all know, women remain underrepresented. Job satisfaction is key to retention, and women report that they are less satisfied with the academic workplace and are more likely than men to leave academic jobs earlier in their careers.

Cathy Trower is the research director of the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) at Harvard University. Trower and Richard Chait, also at Harvard, founded COACHE in 2002 to help improve the academic environment for junior faculty and to assist colleges and universities in recruiting, retaining, and increasing the satisfaction of early-career faculty, who are most at risk for leaving academia.

COACHE includes more than 130 colleges and universities that participate in the Tenure-Track Faculty Job Satisfaction Survey, which is administered annually to all full-time, tenure-track faculty at member institutions.

For both female and male STEM faculty, the researchers at COACHE found that the nature of the work and the departmental climate were the most important factors predicting job satisfaction, and the two factors were equally important for both groups. Within the climate category, survey results showed that, compared with their male peers, female STEM faculty were significantly less satisfied with three factors: sense of fit, opportunities to collaborate with senior colleagues, and the perception of fair treatment of junior faculty in their departments.

Do these findings ring true to you? In your department, do female faculty seem less satisfied than male faculty?

Avatar By:   |   November 29, 2011


  1. Avatar Christianne Corbett says:

    You make a good point, Carolyn. Unfortunately, the work that needs to be done to increase women’s representation in STEM fields is not limited only to encouraging girls to consider these fields. Institutional change is also necessary. Institutions like colleges and universities and employers of scientists and engineers have to be welcoming, supportive, satisfying places for women to work. And that is a very important part of the work to be done.

    Thanks for your comment,

  2. Avatar Carolyn H says:

    This information about job satisfaction raises a troubling dilemma. When we encourage girls/women to enter fields where women are underrepresented, are we setting them up for lifelong career frustration? In at least some cases, women are underrepresented because they are not wanted and not treated well by colleagues. Only someone super-committed to the selected field or a great over-achiever is going to be happy working in a non-supportive environment.

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