Rice University Tapped To Develop Initiatives for Women In Science and Engineering
To positively transform higher education’s culture and policies for women in science and engineering, the National Science Foundation
has awarded Rice University a five-year, $3.3 million grant to increase opportunities for the hiring and advancement of women faculty in those disciplines.
Rice is using the grant to create strategies and programs aimed at enhancing the pool of women in science and engineering junior faculty positions. The first program, in late October titled “Negotiating the Ideal Faculty Position: A Workshop for Women in Science and Engineering,” was organized to teach female graduate students and postdoctoral fellows how to find and secure faculty positions that match their career interests. More than 700 women applied for the 46 positions in the workshop.
“Rice has an extraordinary opportunity to impact gender and ethnic diversity over the coming decade because of faculty retirements,” says David W. Leebron, the university’s president.
“More than one-third of our faculty in science and engineering will reach normal retirement age during that time,” he says. “Rice is not content to be a follower on this issue; we are already leading the nation in appointing women to positions of leadership within science and engineering, and we intend to lead by example in recruiting, retaining and nurturing junior faculty women and men.”
To fulfill the grant’s mission, Rice will examine administrative processes and encourage cultural changes that foster a more welcoming, encouraging environment for female scholars in science and engineering and to remove artificial barriers to success.
Nationally, roughly one-quarter of the science and engineering work force is female, but less than 20 percent of all science and engineering faculty at four-year colleges and universities are women. That number drops below 10 percent in some disciplines, such as physics. The figures are much poorer for women of color, as minority women account
for only about 2 percent of science and engineering faculty, according to NSF officials.
“Recruiting more women who are qualified provides only part of the answer,” says Dr. Kathleen Matthews, dean of the Wiess School of Natural Sciences at Rice and a principal investigator on the grant.
“We also need to address the subtle biases or stereotypes women face in academia. Sometimes it can just be the way things are phrased,” she says. “For example, research has shown that if you’re searching for faculty candidates, and you call a professor and ask them to recommend someone from their group, they’ll tend to mention the men first. It’s unconscious and both men and women do it, but research also shows that you can balance that bias by simply asking if they have any promising women in their group.”
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