Yale University. Source: LinkedIn

Equity in Professorship

November 19, 2019

Written by: Gabby Chia and Vanessa Hennessey

The topic of race or gender bias is a hotly debated topic in our media, which has pushed brands to introduce better diversity initiatives. For example, Apple now has nearly 40% of leaders under 30 that are women and 46% non-white employees. However, an issue that is rarely seen in media is that of diversity in many post-secondary establishments. Universities are a site of innovative and progressive thinking, but it’s hard for minority groups to see this when the faculty has a consistently disproportionate ratio of minority staff. Many universities are taking initiatives to change this to a more balanced ratio, while others are taking a little longer to catch up.

Source: Collegiate Times

What percentage of women and minority professors reach tenure?

In 2014, the Yale Daily News released a piece on the hardships of reaching tenure – the point of permanent professorship – at Yale University. The reporter, Theresa Steinmeyer, specifically outlined the additional difficulties taken on by professors deriving from minorities. In 2014 only 24.1% of the tenured faculty were female, and 13.4% were non-white. But the Yale Headcount Summary by Race/Gender from the Yale databases suggest it was closer to 34.9% and 19.9% respectively. According to the same document, the 2015-2016 year (the most recent update only dates back to this time period) still only suggests minimal if any improvement. That’s not to say they haven’t been making an effort. In fact, Yale has attempted to create initiatives to even the disparity. In 2006 Yale began a seven-year initiative to tenure 30 women and 30 minority members. Yale did hire 30 women and exceeded their goal and hired 56 minority members, however, within a five year period, 12 women and 34 minority faculty had left the university.

At least there has been improvement since 2006 when there were only 19.4% women and 10.4% minorities in the permanent faculty. There has been a lot of progress since then, but let’s see if we can figure out why we have yet to reach minority/majority equilibrium.

Source: The Minnesota Daily

Why is it so hard for minorities?

A 2007 satisfaction survey distributed by Yale University for their staff revealed that “women and underrepresented minorities were nearly three times more likely than men to report that a lack of mentors was a barrier to career advancement, and female and underrepresented minority junior faculty were about twice as likely to report that they felt excluded from informal networks.” The women and minority groups at Yale had felt they were disadvantaged in seeking aid from experienced professors. On top of that, as they were on their tenure track, many women and minority professors were flocked by students that fit their respective grouping for advising. Most found it difficult to turn them down despite being on a difficult path to career advancement themselves. Frederick Wherry, a young, African-American professor in the Department of Sociology at Yale, suggests “the university does not necessarily expect more from their minority faculty, but that the minority faculty has more difficulty saying ‘no.’”

Another ailment that might contribute to the lower numbers of women and ethnic minorities in tenured positions are student evaluations. Universities that hire their professors based solely on student evaluations can find bias in this structure. For example, if a student were to disagree with the professor’s perspective, they might judge the professor’s teaching style based on a singular comment. The issue is intensified if the student makes a bias in respect to the professor’s race or gender. Women faculty are penalized 0.4 points and black faculty are penalized 0.6 points approximately based on student reviews.

Source: WREG

As greater numbers of minority groups migrate to Europe and North America, we are on a path to make underrepresentation in universities a trial of the past. In 2012, the college enrollment rates of Hispanic high school students outnumbered the number of enrollments by white students for the first time. With the increasing number of minority students, the universities must do their due diligence to keep up with the progress towards diversity. Luckily, we are making our way toward the right direction, and with more women and minority graduates will hopefully bring more underrepresented professors along with it.

Check out our White Papers, a great resource for learning about different issues of underrepresentation and diversity in industry and academia.