How Geneseo and two professors are shaping the future of women and underrepresented groups in academia, especially in STEM fields.
By Lonny Lippsett
Though women in academia have made strides in recent decades, they remain stubbornly underrepresented in higher professorial ranks, especially in STEM fields. Two initiatives at Geneseo have been launched to help surmount entrenched barriers for women faculty.
Wendy Pogozelski, Distinguished Teaching Professor of Chemistry, and Karleen West, associate professor of political science and international relations, have received an $884,000 National Science Foundation grant to improve the access and climate for women faculty in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at member institutions of the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges — a nationwide consortium of 29 primarily undergraduate institutions.
The Geneseo professors will work with administrators to identify and solve gender-related inequities — often unwittingly baked into their systems — that hinder career success and advancement for female STEM faculty. Their program will also establish a support structure for women faculty, who are often among the only STEM faculty women in their institutions or departments, to connect with other women who share similar challenges.
The goals of their two-pronged approach are to foster systemic changes for the 29 institutions and to develop and disseminate methods that other institutions can apply to enhance recruitment, retention and advancement of women STEM faculty, Pogozelski and West said.
Meanwhile, Geneseo hired four women faculty in 2019, three in STEM fields, thanks to a new SUNY initiative called PRODiG — Promoting Recruitment, Opportunity, Diversity, Inclusion and Growth. The initiative (pronounced “prodigy”) helps recruit faculty from historically underrepresented communities and women faculty of all races in STEM fields. It seeks to help close a gap between SUNY faculty, 8.6 percent of whom are racially and ethnically diverse compared with 28.5 percent of the students they instruct (as of fall 2018).
In 2018, women made up about half of the U.S. college-educated workforce but only 28 percent of the science and engineering workforce. And though women receive about half of the U.S. doctorates in science and engineering, the number of women full professors in science and engineering remains far from 50 percent, and they earn less than their male counterparts.
As part of their research, Pogozelski and West interviewed 24 female STEM faculty at 14 institutions to investigate systemic obstacles that slowed promotion and tenure for women and often led them to give up their careers.
“Some are big and some are small, but they add up,” Pogozelski said. Women reported issues also seen in the literature: unequal teaching and advising loads; lack of support for work-family balance policies; hiring and promotion practices that favor men; cultures that exclude women from informal male-only social gatherings and reduce women’s opportunities for mentoring and collaboration; and evaluations based on conforming to gender-stereotyped personal characteristics, rather than professional competence.
“Women and minority faculty observed that they are expected to be kinder and friendlier and they are disproportionally being tasked with providing more time to give emotional support and advice,” Pogozelski said. “Not meeting these gendered expectations can result in negative feedback and evaluation.”
While this “emotional labor” is valuable to their students and departments, it takes time away from scholarship, which remains a primary factor in their institutions’ reward systems, leaving women STEM faculty clustered at lower ranks, Pogozelski and West said.
Their research also revealed that the women faculty commonly reported feelings of self-doubt and marginalization, which they thought were unique to them. “They had too few models to emulate or too few opportunities to receive advice,” Pogozelski said.
The NSF grant will allow Pogozelski and West to conduct workshops for administrators and chairs at the 29 nationwide institutions to recognize systemic barriers to success for women STEM faculty; create concrete strategies to recruit, retain and advance women faculty; change inequitable policies; and establish scorecards to measure and encourage progress.
In addition, the grant will establish an “affinity support” network for women STEM faculty at the institutions to alleviate isolation, exchange information, and provide mentoring, collaboration and encouragement.
At Geneseo, the PRODiG program has brought in four new faculty in four departments:
- Mackenzie Gerringer, assistant professor, Department of Biology, who teaches marine biology, science communication and animal physiology.(Read about her research of sea life in the Mariana Trench.)
- Claire Gravelin, assistant professor, Department of Psychology, whose work explores the causes and consequences of the marginalization of women.
- Olaocha Nwadiuto Nwabara, assistant professor, Department of English, who teaches African literature.
- Alessandra Otero, a research instructor librarian/liaison librarian to arts and humanities in Milne Library.
Through PRODiG, SUNY will recruit up to 1,000 early- to mid-career professors from underrepresented groups by 2030.
“We know that increased diversity in our faculty will enrich our community, lead to increased excellence in all areas and positively impact our students’ experience at Geneseo,” said Stacey Robertson, provost and vice president for academic affairs.