Skip to main content

Where are all the women professors? Among the recently hired!

I recently wrote a series of posts entitled "Where are all the women professors?" here and here. I began with a simple premise: "men and women are equally capable of succeeding as professional astronomers. There is no inherent (intrinsic) difference in mental capacity, creativity, ability to learn, or any other factor that plays into the success of an astronomer." From there I examined the role of unconscious bias as one of the factors in a "leaky pipeline" that has resulted in an underrepresentation of women among astronomy professors.

The post was picked up by the Women In Astronomy Blog, and a commenter wondered, "What is the fraction of women hired on tenure track during the same time period as the statistics of the graduating students?" While the present representation of women among various astronomy faculty hovers somewhere around 15%, is there evidence that there have been improvements in recent years? The question stuck with me, but I wasn't sure how to assess it. However, the method recently became obvious: the Astronomy Rumor Mill!

The Rumor Mill is a fairly accurate accounting of the results from each hiring season (roughly Feb-Apr each year). While the short-lists don't always reflect reality, the final decisions, denoted in bold text, usually are. I went combing through the last three years of the rumor mill (previous years, before it was hosted by AstroBetter, are unavailable) and found the outcomes of 67 faculty searches at US institutions that advertised junior faculty appointments in either astronomy or astronomy-oriented physics positions (this was somewhat subjective in a small number of cases). Here are the statistics:

Number of men hired:          42
Number of women hired:        25
Percentage female (2011-2013) 37.3%

That's pretty impressive! As I noted previously, roughly 30% of recent PhDs over the past decade were awarded to women. These numbers are evidence the field has been hiring at a commensurate (or higher) rate over the past three years.

So while the current percentage of women on the faculty of various astronomy departments is much lower than the graduation rate of women, there is evidence over the past three years that the systematic biases in past hiring are being corrected. This is very good news for the field. What will be interesting to see is whether these newly hired women professors earn tenure at the same rate as their male colleagues.

There were many other interesting features in the statistics of recent hires. I recorded the PhD institution of each hired individual. Harvard grads where hired at the highest rate, making up 8 (12%) of the 67 hires. Next was the Princeton cohort, which made up 6 (9%) of all recent hires, followed by Berkeley (7.5%), and OSU (6%). Then came Caltech, Hawaii, UCLA , Washington and Arizona (3 [4.5%] each). Graduates from these 9 institutions made up 57% of all hires in the past three years. (Keep in mind that comparisons among these institutions is difficult since the sizes of their grad programs vary quite a bit. Harvard has the largest number of hired graduates, but it also has the largest graduate program.)

The gender breakdown of hiring among these nine institutions is pretty remarkable: women make up 8 out 17 recent hires at these institutions. To my eye, this is a sign of significant progress. But there's also a way to go still. The faculty of those nine institutions comprise a total of 195 professors, of which only 35 (18%) are women, and a third of those women were hired in the past 6 years.

So I'd conclude that there's a lot of ground to make up, but that based on the statistics of the past three years, the field is making significant progress. And I suspect that that progress will be accelerated as more people come to value diversity as a integral part of overall excellence.


kelle said…
pls consider also checking for prize fellowship rate. I'm curious how robust that oft-mention correlation is...
AJW said…
I did a similar count on the rumor mill back in 2000, and the results are archived here:
3. Good News on Employment

Some good news on employment? To get an estimate of the relative employment success of men and women, I did a study based on the astrophysics Rumor Mill page ( I counted the number of faculty type offers made to men and women.

There were 78 offers total (this counts every offer every time it was made. So, an offer declined by one person and accepted by another is counted twice). Of those, 15 (20%) went to women and 61 (80% went to men). Two went to people whose sex is unknown to me and about whom I couldn't guess based on their names. In 1998, 23% of US doctorates in Astronomy and Astrophysics went to females (see Appendix Table A-1 of "Doctorate Recipients from United States Universities: Summary Report 1998", available at I am the first to admit that the rumor page is hardly an authoritative source, but within the uncertainties, women seem to be getting jobs in proportion to their numbers in the field.

Nice to see that in 13 years, there has been some progress (from ~20 to ~30%). But yes, there's a lot of ground to make up.

And as an aside, I was asked about my writeup nearly everywhere I interviewed for a job in 2001, which was an early indication to me of how many senior people were reading the rumor mill!
Matt Pitkin said…
If you want to go further back in time you can find previous records from the rumor mill on the Wayback Machine e.g. here.

Popular posts from this blog

The Long Con

Hiding in Plain Sight

ESPN has a series of sports documentaries called 30 For 30. One of my favorites is called Broke which is about how professional athletes often make tens of millions of dollars in their careers yet retire with nothing. One of the major "leaks" turns out to be con artists, who lure athletes into elaborate real estate schemes or business ventures. This naturally raises the question: In a tightly-knit social structure that is a sports team, how can con artists operate so effectively and extensively? The answer is quite simple: very few people taken in by con artists ever tell anyone what happened. Thus, con artists can operate out in the open with little fear of consequences because they are shielded by the collective silence of their victims.
I can empathize with this. I've lost money in two different con schemes. One was when I was in college, and I received a phone call that I had won an all-expenses-paid trip to the Bahamas. All I needed to do was p…

An annual note to all the (NSF) haters

It's that time of year again: students have recently been notified about whether they received the prestigious NSF Graduate Student Research Fellowship. Known in the STEM community as "The NSF," the fellowship provides a student with three years of graduate school tuition and stipend, with the latter typically 5-10% above the standard institutional support for first- and second-year students. It's a sweet deal, and a real accellerant for young students to get their research career humming along smoothly because they don't need to restrict themselves to only advisors who have funding: the students fund themselves!
This is also the time of year that many a white dude executes what I call the "academic soccer flop." It looks kinda like this:

It typically sounds like this: "Congrats! Of course it's easier for you to win the NSF because you're, you know, the right demographic." Or worse: "She only won because she's Hispanic."…

Culture: Made Fresh Daily

There are two inspirations for this essay worth noting. The first is an impromptu talk I gave to the board of trustees at Thatcher School while I was visiting in October as an Anacapa Fellow. Spending time on this remarkable campus interacting with the students, faculty and staff helped solidify my notions about how culture can be intentionally created. The second source is Beam Times and Lifetimes by Sharon Tarweek, an in-depth exploration of the culture of particle physics told by an anthropologist embedded at SLAC for two decades. It's a fascinating look at the strange practices and norms that scientists take for granted.
One of the stories that scientists tell themselves, whether implicitly or explicitly, is that science exists outside of and independent of society. A corollary of this notion is that if a scientific subfield has a culture, e.g. the culture of astronomy vs. the culture of chemistry, that culture is essential rather than constructed. That is to say, scientific c…