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4 Tips for Recruiting and Retaining Women in STEM Fields

Women today earn more than half of all graduate and doctorate degrees but make up only 32 percent of tenured faculty. Women working at universities are often paid less than men and can face hostile environments in STEM fields like computing, where the percentage of women has been on the decline since the 1980s. Colleges and universities can make changes to ensure that women thrive alongside their male peers.

1. Reduce bias and foster a more inclusive climate

In order to prevent bias in hiring decisions, colleges and universities should offer gender and racial bias training to faculty search committees, research supervisors and hiring managers. Institutions should regularly assess the climate for faculty and research staff, as well as use evidence-based interventions to create an inclusive space in which all faculty and staff can thrive.

2. Adopt policies to support faculty and staff with families

The biological clock and the tenure clock tend to tick in tandem, forcing professionals who choose to have children to balance families with career advancement. “Stop-the-clock” policies enable tenure-track faculty to push back their tenure review so they can take time off for the birth or adoption of a child. Importantly, “stop-the-clock” and family leave policies should be opt-out instead of opt-in to indicate that faculty and staff are expected to use them, and institutions should build policies around caretaker status — not gender — to avoid creating bias. These policies should include support like funding for temporary research assistance and childcare for those who need it.

3. Ensure mentoring for all faculty and remain aware of power dynamics

New faculty should be assigned a sponsor within their department to ensure that no one falls through the cracks. College and universities should be aware of the imbalance of power present in mentor-mentee relationships and remain vigilant when it comes to inappropriate behavior, taking complaints seriously and holding faculty and administrators accountable. There should also be a variety of professional networking opportunities available to and actively inclusive of all students.

4. Create clear and unbiased evaluation criteria that reflect the values of the institution

Annual evaluations and tenure review guidelines should avoid vague, subjective standards that invite bias. Student classroom evaluations, for instance, are often biased against women. Review committees should also take such institutional priorities as fostering an inclusive climate, building family-friendly workplaces, and providing mentorship into account when evaluating faculty and staff. Women and women of color in particular are in demand as committee members and mentors. Institutions must take concerted steps, therefore, to ensure that women’s voices are valued and heard. 

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