Feature

Only recently have women had equal opportunities to earn PhDs in psychology and to win tenure-track jobs. Today, 30 percent of women faculty in psychology departments are tenured compared with 52 percent of men faculty--and that gap is likely to continue closing.

But those gains in tenure are not enough. An APA Task Force on Women in Academe is seeking to further boost the number of women who earn tenure and ensure more equity for women in salary, support for research and teaching, and recognition for their service to universities.

"We are at a turning point in the field," says Arizona State University psychologist Nancy Felipe Russo, PhD, a member of the Task Force on Women in Academe, which has been studying this issue since 1998. "Whether or not we will translate the gains in participation for women at the lower ranks into secure tenured status has yet to be seen."

Seeking to combat some of these inequities, the task force has issued a report, "Women in Academe: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back," which offers seven recommendations to psychology departments and institutions for enhancing women's success in academia. They are:

  • Hold administrators--especially department chairs and deans--accountable for gender equity and climate in their units. "Women still feel like they're being treated unfairly, regardless of the institution," says Nadya Fouad, PhD, task force chair and a professor of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin¬≠Milwaukee. Subtle forms of discrimination still exist, she says, including men faculty viewing research on women's issues as not being scientifically rigorous.

  • Recognize and reward women faculty for their service to the university and their profession. Women faculty are more likely than men faculty to serve their university and profession, the report finds. But the activities women typically choose are more likely to help others than help themselves attain power. "Women spend a lot of time in service roles," says Fouad, "and therefore are often not tapped for high administrative positions. The service role positions they are tapped for are less likely to help them climb the academic ladder."

  • Provide women faculty with equitable support for teaching, including mentoring, equal access to teaching assistants and reduced teaching loads to allow new faculty to prepare new courses. For example, departments need to make sure untenured women faculty have mentors to provide them with the information they need to make good decisions on the myriad issues that confront them, from how to divide their time between teaching and research, or whether to accept administrative positions or committee assignments that might interfere with their research, says Task Force Member Janet Shibley Hyde, PhD, chair of the University of Wisconsin's psychology department.

  • Explore whether compensation packages are equitable across genders. Women, themselves, need to recognize that starting salaries are very important because all raises are based on a percentage of that initial wage, says Hyde. "For every $1,000 you don't get in initial salary, you end up losing additional money over time," she says. "You might think the difference between $50,000 and $51,000 is only $1,000, but if your salary increases by 3 percent of that wage each year, it compounds over time."

  • Offer women faculty equitable support for their research, including initial compensation, lab space, funding for research assistants, internal funding and protected time for research. "We have made advances in salary equity," says Russo, "but we have a long way to go with other forms of compensation, such as summer support, travel funds to attend conferences and equipment and other resources that are crucial in launching a research program." In comparison, she says, men often receive these rewards because they push for them. Women, on the other hand, often don't know they should negotiate for these perks.

  • Develop comprehensive programs to address underrepresentation of ethnic minorities. Such programs should include curriculum development, enhanced access to role models and mentors, scholarship and fellowship funding and change in the institutional climate.

  • Examine the institutional climate for women faculty, evaluating whether mentoring is provided for all junior faculty, if women have adequate research space and whether women and ethnic minorities are represented sufficiently.

The Task Force on Women in Academe is sending its report to chairs at psychology departments across the country and many associations, including the National Science Foundation and the Association for Women in Science. Task force members are also making presentations on the study at state psychological association meetings and other professional gatherings.

Further Reading

View the report, "Women in Academe: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back."