Skip to main content

Proposal Abstract

Introduction

Effective recruitment, retention, and advancement of women faculty in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) remains a challenge because of the complex set of barriers women still face. Although women may represent an increasing share of graduates and faculty in a fraction of these disciplines—they continue to be underrepresented and under-advanced in the academy because of a combination of factors that include the institutional environment, an unconscious bias that penalizes women, and the false perception that advancement for women comes at a cost for men. West Virginia University (WVU) is strongly committed to diversity and gender equity, realizing that the development of a more diverse, and representative, STEM workforce benefits all of our stakeholders. The institution also realizes that success in this endeavor requires a systemic approach to maintain, let alone increase, the representation and career advancement of women in the STEM disciplines of the academy. Despite our commitment and efforts to this end, an assessment of our institutional status, comparing the percent of doctoral degrees awarded to women in the STEM fields with the percent employed in those fields at WVU, clearly reveals that we fall short of the mark and need to implement new strategies if we are to achieve our STEM diversity goals.

Based on 2006 data (the most recent national data available), we found that only 21.8% of STEM tenure- track faculty in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences (ECAS) were female compared to 44.3% of the degrees awarded to women in these fields nationally. Further, only 5.3% of our College of Engineering and Mineral Resources (CEMR) tenure-track faculty were female compared to 20% of engineering doctoral degrees awarded to women nationally. Although improvements have been made since 2006 (see institutional context and data), an institution-wide concerted program must be implemented in order to realize our full potential and positively contribute to the diversification of academe in the United States.

Our long term goal is to ensure the success of all faculty members by creating a diverse scientific community within WVU that supports constructive interactions leading to professional and personal development. Our specific goal for this program is to transform the WVU organization by developing a collective sense of interdependence and collective efficacy based on a social psychological approach. Raising awareness of the nature of the problems facing women in STEM ields is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for sustained organizational change. We are therefore implementing a multi-level, time effective means to assess, engage, and support change efforts at the department level and integrate department identified needs into institutional level change. In addition, our approach retains flexibility, engages multiple parties as change agents, remains somewhat independent from university administration, fosters a sense of accountability toward constituent groups, and promotes a sense of urgency and teamwork toward attaining institutional transformation. Our strategy is based on: (1) a comprehensive analysis of the WVU climate, (2) action research in the field of social psychology, and (3) a review of successful programming at ADVANCE institutions and peer publications in the literature.

WVU recently selected our 23rd President, Dr. James P. Clements (PI), and a new Provost, Dr. Michele Wheatly, (to begin 1/1/10) whom have over 55 years of combined higher education experience. In light of our new academic leadership’s commitment to an aggressive strategic diversity plan, we are in the best possible position for successful institutional transformation. Further, the remaining members of the WVU-PRIDE team are experts in such relevant fields as—action research, sociology, women’s studies, mathematics, engineering, social work, and public administration. We have identified the norms and practices that tend to exclude women at WVU and our objectives to overcome these barriers include:

  1. We aim to make direct connections between individuals and the policies and practices of WVU. Establish the WVU-PRIDE center to promote, sustain, and assess institutional policies and practices that will enhance the environment for women faculty.
  2. We aim to engage faculty from departments and disciplines throughout the university in a dialogical change process that promotes collective engagement in institutional transformation and the achievement of gender-equity and diversity goals. Introduce, facilitate, and assess a dialogical process that promotes collective engagement at the department level.
  3. We aim to recruit, retain and promote more women science and engineering faculty in the Eberly College of Arts & Sciences (ECAS) and the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources (CEMR) at WVU. Implement recruitment strategies, mentoring models, training regarding promotion and tenure, and training in leadership to prepare junior faculty for advancement to administrative roles in their careers.

Our expected outcomes are: (1.) development of a replicable, cost effective, and efficient methodology to promote institution-wide change, (2.) improvement of specific climate issues identified by male and female faculty through our climate and exit survey instruments, (3.) significant improvement in the percentage of women faculty at WVU compared to the national pool of women earning Ph.D.s in science and engineering, and (4.) significant improvement in the advancement of assistant female faculty to full professors and key administrative roles on campus. In addition to climate transformation at WVU, our social psychological research and new measure of consensus will move forward any field concerned with group processes and organization change. Our method to promote institutional change is expected to be widely disseminated and applied to two-year, four-year, and research intensive institutions that seek to adapt to the current academic environment, thus furthering the goals of the NSF ADVANCE program.

Perceptions of climate are critically important determinants of women scientists’ overall job satisfaction (Settles et al., 2006). Unfortunately, departmental climate, particularly interactions with colleagues, remains an area wherein women continue to feel somewhat excluded (Gender Differences at Critical Transitions, 2009). Therefore, there is a critical need to develop strategies that can facilitate energy for change and promote respectful relationships among immediate colleagues, while providing an avenue for institution-wide impact. Our project is therefore significant because it develops an approach to enable change agents to identify a group’s readiness for transformation, facilitates group goal development, and provides a mechanism for implementing responsive institutional level policies. Similar to other ADVANCE programs, such as Utah State University, the University of Rhode Island, Iowa State University, the University of Texas-El Paso, and the University of Washington, our central approach is a departmental level program to promote faculty engagement.

In an effort to contribute to the ADVANCE knowledge base, and not simply repeat what has already been accomplished, we address several challenges and recommendations from the aforementioned ADVANCE programs’ final and annual reports, as well as peer reviewed publications. We propose an innovative five year departmental level program, which will simultaneously target all nine ECAS STEM departments and all seven CEMR departments. We adapt and implement a well-established method for enhancing communication tools to serve a new population, where change has been documented as slow and labor intensive – the academy. In addition, we will develop a new measure of consensus that can be used across different surveys and research studies.