The report states:
As in years past, the percentage of senior [female faculty] varies tremendously by field: it is highest in Education (50%), Divinity (38%), and FAS Humanities (33%), with FAS Social Science (27%) and Public Health (25%) close behind. The percentage of senior [female faculty] remains stubbornly low across the sciences, including the Medical School (17%), FAS Natural Sciences (14%), and Engineering (14%).
These numbers are from data collected during the 2012-2013 academic year, spanning across the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), but also Harvard’s graduate schools: the Medical School, the School of Public Health, the Graduate School of Education, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the Kennedy School of Government, the Graduate School of Design, Harvard Business School, and Harvard Divinity School.
By many estimates, women are earning more doctorates than men, but the disparity still exists in professorship. To quote Harvard professor Elena M. Kramer, chair of Harvard’s Standing Committee on Women, “Why can’t we break out of this 30 percent ceiling in our tenure-track appointments?”
There’s been much talk about work-life balance, the challenges of family and career, and the institutionalized sexism of academia as contributing factors to the disparity, but the question at this point is what we can do about it. Does this mean changes in hiring practices? Changes in expectations or criteria for tenure? More affordable childcare near campus?
The answer is unclear, but HCWC interns asked a few female faculty members at Harvard about their experience. Professor Gita Gopinath from Harvard’s Department of Economics didn’t believe that her gender had disproportionately influenced her experience in academia for better or for worse, but she did acknowledge that gender plays a role in the experience of many female students and faculty members in higher education, especially in traditionally male-dominated fields.
Professor Robin Bernstein, who teaches Harvard courses in African & African American Studies as well as Studies of Women, Gender & Sexuality, shared her experience as a professor and as a woman, and how perceptions and privilege can shape interactions on and off campus. We recorded her story and her thoughts, and readers are encouraged to listen here.
It’s clear that there are a variety of experiences inside and outside the identity of “professor” that influence female representation in higher education. From this data and these conversations, we hope to see even more progress in representation, not only in fields with high gender disparity, but across all of academia.