Newly-hired tenure-track N. American asst. professors of ecology are 59% women (no further updates)

(Last update: June 3, 2018. No substantial changes since the original post, only very very minor quantitative changes. A recent update adds a link and brief discussion of new data on the gender balance of ecology PhD recipients and postdocs. Those data provide useful context for the data I compiled.)

Like last year, this year I once again quantified the gender balance of newly-hired tenure-track asst. professors in ecology and allied fields at N. American colleges and universities. I also conducted a poll asking readers what they expected me to find. Click the link to the poll for details on how I compiled the data, and why I went with a gender binary even though that’s not ideal.

I’ll present the results first, then the poll results, then some discussion.

Warning: long post ahead. That’s because I’ve tried to discuss the results thoroughly and carefully, and to anticipate and address questions that readers are likely to have. You really should read on, but if you just want the headline results:

  • 59% of tenure-track asst. professors of ecology hired in N. America in 2016-17 are women. Combined with last year’s data, it’s 57% women over the last two years. If anything, that’s probably a slight underestimate, for reasons explained below. This is good news!
  • Ecologists as a group remain unaware of this; many think recent faculty hiring in ecology is <50% women.


I ID’d the gender of 195 tenure-track asst. profs of ecology hired in N. America in 2016-17 (that’s out of ~250 positions I tried to ID; I tried to ID every position in ecology and allied fields). 114 of them (59%) are women. As an aside: those 194 include a very few profs who were actually hired the year before but whom I counted in this year’s data because it was easier than adding them to last year’s dataset and rewriting last year’s post yet again.

We can combine these data with last year’s data on hiring in 2015-16. Last year I identified 193 positions, 54% of which were filled by women (note: it was 51% at the time I originally published last year’s post, but as additional data came in it went up to 54%). That means that over the last two years, 57% (219/387) of newly-hired tenure-track asst. professors of ecology in N. America have been women.

This is a sample, not a census. Further, it’s a sample from a finite population, though one for which the exact population size isn’t known. If we assume that the population size from which the combined data set was sampled is 500 positions, then the finite population 95% confidence interval around our estimate of 57% women is 54-59% women (normal approximation to the binomial distribution, which is fine because we have a big sample size and an estimated proportion sufficiently close to 50%). The bounds of that interval don’t vary much for any plausible assumption about the size of the total population. For instance, the 95% c.i. only expands to 53-60% women if you assume that 700 rather than 500 tenure-track asst. profs of ecology were hired in N. America in the past two years. Conversely, the 95% c.i. shrinks to 55-58% women if you assume a population size of 400 positions. So we can infer with high confidence that recent tenure-track faculty hires in ecology in N. America are >50% women. (note: see below for discussion of possible sampling bias; men are probably slightly over-represented in my sample)

You’re probably wondering if the gender balance of recent tenure-track ecology hires varies among institutions of different types. Across US academia as a whole, women have long been more underrepresented among faculty at large research universities than at small colleges. There’s a trend in that direction among recent ecology hires, but you need to combine data across multiple years for it to come out close to significant in a chi-square test, and its apparent strength varies depends on how you classify institutions. Finer-grained classifications lead to smaller sample sizes and so more sampling noise, but coarser-grained classifications may average away some real variation. In 2016-17, 42/74 (57%) of tenure-track asst. prof ecology hires at R1 universities (or their Canadian rough equivalents) were women, vs. 72/120 (60%) women at non-R1s. Combining with last year’s data, you get 81/157 (52%) women at R1s vs. 138/230 (60%) at non-R1s, a close-to-significant difference in a chi-square test. But if instead you define “research universities” as R1+R2+R3 universities and only look at 2016-17 hires, you find that 65/114 (57%) of hires at research universities were women, vs. 45/74 (61%) women at non-research universities, a difference nowhere close to significant (note that this last calculation omits hires at a few Canadian unis I wasn’t sure how to classify).

In light of the fact that recent ecology hires at less research-intensive institutions are more likely to be women than are recent hires at research universities, it’s likely that my data slightly underestimate the proportion of women among recent ecology hires. That’s because the positions for which I was unable to identify who was hired are mostly at less research-intensive institutions. Here’s a rough back of envelope calculation to show that the bias, if it exists, should be modest. If you assume that 500 tenure-track asst. profs of ecology were hired in N. America in the last two years, of whom I identified 387, and that the unidentified ones were 61% women (roughly as expected if the unidentified ones were mostly at less research-intensive institutions), then the true proportion of women among tenure-track asst. professors of ecology hired in the last two years is estimated to be 58% rather than 57%. Even if you assume, implausibly, that the population of ecology hires was much larger (say, 800), and my sample was more statistically-biased (say, the unidentified positions were 65% women, or going the other direction only 50% women), the corrected estimate only changes by about 4 percentage points in one direction or the other. I can’t see any plausible way the true proportion of women hired into tenure-track positions in ecology in N. America in the last two years could be less than 50%. Taking into account plausible sampling bias and sampling error, I’d be quite surprised if it’s less than 54-55%.

I didn’t break down the results by subfield of ecology. Subfields are too loosely defined for that to be a useful exercise.

Before anyone asks: no, I didn’t also compile data on race/ethnicity. In my view that would be impossible to do based on the sort of publicly-available information I was looking at. For what it’s worth, a substantial majority of recent ecology hires probably identify as white, but I wouldn’t venture to be any more precise than that. This is an important issue, but I don’t have data that speaks to it.

A read-only spreadsheet of all the positions I checked is here. I welcome corrections and additions, and will edit the post as needed in light of them. Please email me with corrections and additions at I’m the only one with permission to edit the spreadsheet because I want to ensure the accuracy of the information.

Poll results

So what did poll respondents think I was going to find? I was curious about this because last year’s poll respondents were mostly way off. Last year’s respondents mostly thought that recently N. American tenure-track ecology hires are strongly male-biased. And last year’s true value of 54% women was outside the majority of respondents’ subjective confidence intervals around their own guesses.

This year’s guesses were much more accurate, but still way too low. The mean guess this year was 46% women (median 48%), with guesses that missed low far outnumbering those that missed high:

This year I asked respondents for some background information, and about how they came up with their guesses. Respondents who’d sat on an ecology faculty search committee in the last 5 years, and those who read and recalled last year’s results, were a bit more accurate than other respondents, but only by a few percentage points on average. Interestingly, some attributes greatly reduced the variance of guesses. Respondents who read and recalled last year’s results, and respondents who’d sat on an ecology faculty search committee in the last 5 years, rarely provided extreme guesses that were way off. Faculty and postdoc guesses also exhibited less variance than guesses from grad students or people in other employment, though the gap wasn’t huge.

Interestingly, the average guess among respondents who read and recalled last year’s post was only 49% women, i.e. a bit lower than the fraction of women in last year’s sample (even at the time when I first published last year’s post).

To their credit, respondents this year also expressed much more uncertainty about their guesses than last year’s many overconfident respondents did, though in retrospect I think last year’s poll was structured poorly and so nudged some respondents into excessive confidence. This year’s result of 59% women will come as surprise to only 34% of respondents, based on their own statements of what result would surprise them. The upper bound of many respondents’ subjective confidence intervals was 60% women, so this year’s results came close to surprising many respondents.

Many but not all respondents who read and recalled last year’s results reported basing their guess this year on those results. A few respondents said they used last year’s results as a starting point, then dialed down or (more rarely) up based on other considerations. Those adjustments mostly made their guesses less accurate. Many other respondents reported basing their guesses on their own department’s recent hiring, or on anecdotal knowledge of recent ecology faculty hires at other institutions. Their guesses were both more variable and less accurate than the guesses of people who based their guesses on last year’s results–a small illustration of the risks of overgeneralizing from small samples. Some respondents started from the fact that women comprise a majority of US ecology graduate students, and then dialed down based on what they knew, or thought they knew, about retention rates. A few respondents based their guesses on other experiences and information, such as seeing many women at the ESA meeting, reading about sexism in science, and their impression that diversity and equity are taken seriously these days.

I got a chuckle out of the respondent who guessed based on “reading coffee grounds”. 🙂 This respondent’s guess was way off, suggesting that a switch to tea leaves may be called for. 🙂


This year’s data confirm the good news of last year’s data. They represent real, systemic progress. If you’d collected the same data even a decade or two ago, I doubt you’d have found 57% women among recent asst. professor hires in ecology in N. America!

I don’t think these data are an argument for complacency. Presumably, recent tenure-track faculty hiring in ecology is 57% women at least in part because many individuals and institutions take equity and diversity seriously. We shouldn’t stop taking it seriously.

On their own, these data don’t tell you anything about whether or not ecology faculty hiring decisions are gender-neutral relative to the applicant pools, because I lack data on applicant pools. But a back of the envelope calculation suggests that the applicant pool for tenure-track ecology professorships in N. America is less than or equal to 57% women. Women earn a majority of the US PhDs in biological sciences (e.g., 55% in 2015); that’s been true for over a decade. (Note that Canada may be a bit different; in 2007 [the most recent year for which I could find data], only 47% of new Canadian life science PhD recipients were women. But PhDs from Canada and elsewhere are a small fraction of new ecology faculty hires in N. America and so their demographics don’t make a big difference to my rough, back-of-the-envelope calculation). Drilling down, in 2015, women earned 51% of US PhDs in ecology, 54% in environmental sciences, and 53% in wildlife biology, and women comprise a slight majority of all US ecology PhD recipients since 2000. Collectively, those data show that recent-ish PhD recipients in ecology and allied fields are a bit less than 57% women. And the analysis of NSF’s massive long-term dataset in Shaw & Stanton (2012) indicates that, in US biology as a whole as of 2006, women PhD recipients were a bit less likely than men to go on to a postdoc. Now, Shaw & Stanton didn’t have ecology-specific data, and that the gender gap in transition from grad school to postdoc likely has narrowed since 2006 because the historical trend of slowly-but-steadily narrowing gender gaps presumably has continued. So at a rough guess, I think the overall applicant pool for N. American ecology faculty positions probably is roughly gender-balanced. A bit male-skewed or a bit female-skewed seem quite possible too. UPDATE: we no longer have to guesstimate the gender balance of ecology postdocs based on the data in Shaw & Stanton, thanks to the new paper from Hampton & Labou, which shows that of 2013, 46.2% of ecology postdocs in the US were women.  In light of the new data from Hampton & Labou, I’d now guess that the applicant pool for N. American ecology faculty positions is a bit male-skewed. FWIW (probably not much), the 113 anonymous faculty job seekers who chose to share their demographic information on last year were 48% women. And FWIW (again, probably not much), what I hear anecdotally from people who’ve sat on ecology faculty search committees at research unis recently is that applicant pools tend to be gender balanced or skewed towards men (e.g.). What little data I’m aware of on gender balance of applicant pools vs. hires in biology also suggests that, recently, TT faculty hires in biology skew a bit more female than do the applicant pools. For instance, as of 2004-5, a NRC study summarized here found that women were receiving 45% of biology PhDs, comprised 25% of TT applicants, got 30% of TT job interviews and 34% of TT job offers. Obviously, the gender balance of the applicant pool for any particular search might well deviate from that of the overall pool. But based on the data available, I’d be quite surprised if the applicant pool for N. American tenure-track faculty positions in ecology is as or more skewed towards women than recent hires are. I’d be extremely surprised if the overall applicant pool is a lot more than 57% women, or a lot less.

Assuming that rough speculation is correct, I’m totally fine with that state of affairs. I certainly wouldn’t say it represents “reverse discrimination” if women are a bit overrepresented among recent tenure-track faculty hires in ecology compared to their representation in the applicant pool. I mean, I hope this doesn’t need saying, but the women ecologists being hired into faculty positions are just as qualified as the men and just as good at their jobs! Further, you can’t really rank faculty job applicants on a single “quality” dimension. Especially when it comes down to choosing among the strongest candidates in the applicant pool at the interview stage(s). Typically, the competitive candidates for any given faculty position will vary on various dimensions that can’t be collapsed into a single one, with no one candidate being obviously preferable to the others on every dimension. Personal attributes like gender should be among those dimensions. After all, individual faculty don’t exist in a vacuum. Departments, and the colleges and universities comprised of them, are institutional wholes that are greater than the sum of their parts (Brian has a half-joking post on this). Those institutional wholes are best able to teach and inspire the full range of students who come through their doors, and best able to pursue new knowledge, if they’re comprised of diverse, complementary mixtures of people.

Assuming that my rough speculations above aren’t way off base, the results presented in this post fit with my admittedly-scattered reading of the literature on gender bias in academic science. My impression is that, in contexts in which scientists and their work are formally evaluated by other scientists, the evaluations mostly are gender-neutral (there are important exceptions). I’m thinking of pre-publication peer review, grant and fellowship application reviews (e.g.), and faculty hiring. Yes, everyone has subtle unconscious biases–but those can be overcome by people making a conscious effort to be fair, and by following formal procedures designed to ensure fairness. For instance, asking all faculty job candidates the same questions in the same order in interviews, and using score sheets in the initial stage of ranking faculty job applicants. When I think about gender bias and equity in academic ecology at a systemic level, I tend to worry more about academic ecologists and their work being evaluated casually by people who aren’t necessarily trying to be fair (e.g., student evaluations of faculty teaching). I worry about people choosing reviewers, visiting speakers, symposium panelists, etc. by just picking the first people who come to mind. And I worry most about the systemic forces that constrain and shape individual career choices and that can differentially affect women (e.g., parental leave policies, division of parenting effort).

Hypothetically, if current trends of increasing representation of women among ecology undergrads, grad students, postdocs, and new faculty continue, 20-40 years from now academic ecology might become predominantly women. There’s precedent for that, I think. My possibly-faulty recollection of long-term historical data on gender balance of different professions is that professions that move from very skewed to gender-balanced rarely stop there. Over the course of several decades, they more often cross over and become skewed in the other direction (sorry, can’t find the link to the paper in which I read this). Computer programming is one example, but there are others if memory serves. And hypothetically, if academic ecology ever did become very skewed towards women, I’d consider that a problem. But just because “crossover” has often happened in the past is no guarantee it will continue to happen in the future, because the future background context will be different. For instance, people have different attitudes about gender than they did decades ago, and today there are many more women in the workforce in a greater range of professions than there were decades ago. Plus, academic ecology is still a long way from becoming mostly women, if it ever happens at all. So I don’t see any practical reason to worry now about that hypothetical, distant future. I’m fine with people speculating about the distant future just because they’re curious and like speculating, though.

That recent tenure-track faculty hiring in ecology is 52% women at R1 universities vs. 61% women at other sorts of institutions isn’t surprising. I suspect it is a real difference and not just sampling error or sampling bias, because it parallels a longstanding pattern for US higher education as a whole, across most every field: women are a higher proportion of faculty at less research-intensive colleges and universities. And that gap hasn’t been closing as far as I know, though of course I lack the long-term data to say whether it’s closing in ecology specifically. Rather, the slow, steady long-term increase in women’s representation among faculty has taken the form of parallel increases in representation at more and less research-intensive institutions. Curious to hear folks’ comments on this–is it a problem, and if so what should/could be done about it?

I tentatively suggest that these results weaken the argument for blinding the initial stage of faculty job searches. It seems to me that, if current hiring procedures are working well, at least at the aggregate level and at least as measured by this one metric, then we shouldn’t fix what isn’t broken. On the other hand, there are other arguments for blinding based on other considerations. But I don’t have strong feelings on this and I’m curious to hear what others think.

I’m glad that poll respondents are now much more aware of the current gender balance of recent tenure-track faculty hiring in ecology than last year’s respondents were. But as a group they still mistakenly believe that recent hiring is skewed towards men. And the people who read last year’s post are a small fraction of all ecologists; others remain even more mistaken in their beliefs about the gender balance of recent ecology faculty hires. Between last year’s and this year’s poll results, I bet that the typical ecologist mistakenly thinks that recent tenure-track faculty hiring in ecology is 40ish percent women, rather than 57%. It seems like a shame to me that people’s impressions of systemic progress lag behind actual systemic progress. But it’s understandable, and I certainly wouldn’t criticize the poll respondents who guessed incorrectly.

Finally, to prevent misinterpretations of these data, here’s a list of all the things these data don’t tell you:

  • What’s happening at any other career stage, such as tenure. If you’re interested in that, you need to read Shaw and Stanton (2012). In particular, did you know that the odds that an asst. professor of biology progresses to the associate professor stage (which is typically associated with receipt of tenure) are higher for women asst. professors than for men asst. professors in the US and have been since the early 1990s? (I know, it surprised me too when I first learned that!) You have to be careful with how you interpret that conditional probability, of course; you definitely should not leap to the conclusion that there’s “reverse discrimination” against men at the tenure stage. But on its face, it provides some grounds for optimism that progress in diversity and equity in faculty hiring at the assistant professor level will carry through to higher ranks. More broadly, Shaw & Stanton quantify how much of the change over time in gender balance at each academic career stage is ultimately attributable to changes in the gender balance of undergraduate degree recipients, vs. changes in people’s probabilities of progressing to the next career stage given that they’ve reached the previous one.
  • Anything about any particular search or department, or the treatment of any particular applicant.
  • The experiences of individual ecologists in their day-to-day professional or personal lives. Nor do these data substitute for or devalue discussions of individual experiences. For instance, that recent asst. prof hiring in ecology is 57% women does not mean that women no longer have horrendously sexist things said to them or about them, and doesn’t somehow make those experiences any less horrible. It doesn’t mean nobody ever gets asked “illegal” questions in faculty job interviews, or make it ok to ask such questions. Etc. Conversely, I don’t think individual experiences substitute for aggregate data like these. For instance, that some people still say horrendously sexist things in 2017 should not lead you to infer that recently-hired asst. profs of ecology must be mostly men–because they’re not. I think both aggregate data and discussions of individual experiences have important and complementary roles to play in discussions about diversity and equity.
  • Anything about recent faculty hiring in other fields, or about recent ecology faculty hiring outside N. America.
  • Anything about your own personal chances of obtaining a faculty position in ecology.

Protips for anyone wanting to emulate this exercise

If you’re inspired to do a similar exercise in your own field, here are two tips. First, you need a big sample size to estimate a proportion with any precision. Even something like, say, 50 positions is not a big sample, unless that’s close to a census of all the recent hires in your field. If I’d stopped after the first 50 or so positions I ID’d this year, I’d have incorrectly reported that 2016-17 asst. prof. hires in ecology were 65% women. Second, don’t just rely on crowdsourcing the data from social media. The subset of positions that I was informed of in response to my blog posts and tweets skewed heavily towards positions filled by women, to a greater extent than my full sample. That likely reflects the fact that this blog’s audience, like a large chunk of science Twitter, includes a lot of people who care deeply about gender and equity issues. Possibly, if you did the same exercise for a different field, asking around on social media would give you a sample biased towards positions filled by men; I dunno. None of which is a criticism of people on social media! It’s just a reminder that people on social media are a small and statistically-biased sample of whatever population you’re trying to crowdsource data on. If you want to emulate this exercise, I recommend seeking data via several different means, including but not limited to asking around on social media. Honestly, if you really want to do it right, you’re probably going to have to do what I did: suck it up and do a lot of googling and a lot of browsing of department websites.

Conclusion: please comment

As always, I look forward to your comments. In order to encourage open discussion and to ensure that my eventual replies are carefully considered, I’m going to stay out of the comments for the first few hours. I’ll also remind all commenters to treat one another with professionalism and respect. Disagreement with one another, and with the post, is fine. Indeed, I’m sure that at least some of you disagree with at least some of my comments on the results, and I hope to hear that disagreement. I certainly don’t think my own views about these results are the only legitimate or defensible ones! But personal attacks are right out, obviously. Also, please keep in mind that overheated rhetoric runs a risk of being seen as an attack. And remember that it’s best to ask for clarification first before leaping to the conclusion that I or another commenter believes something that seems to you to be seriously wrong or otherwise bad. We’ve always had a great commentariat, let’s all keep it up.

34 thoughts on “Newly-hired tenure-track N. American asst. professors of ecology are 59% women (no further updates)

  1. Just inserting a few Twitter comments into the thread here:

  2. Via Twitter, Dan Bolnick says that in his anecdotal experience ecology applicant pools at R1s are quite male-skewed:

    A brief remark: my back of the envelope calculation in the post is an attempt to estimate the gender balance of the “total” applicant pool: everybody seeking a TT job in ecology in N. America. But that overall population likely contains significant heterogeneity from search to search. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the applicant pools for teaching positions and smaller research unis skew more female (or less male) than the applicant pools for R1s.

    • I’ve asked people at 6 R1 universities in the past year. They all report sex ratio in the ballpark of 30%-40% female in recent applicant pools, which matches our own stats. Time for a poll?

      • I guess I could try to poll on this. To ensure accuracy, would have to restrict responses to people who’ve sat on an ecology search committee recently. Would also have to ask whether respondents were passing on precise information from formal records, or just guesstimating the gender balance of the applicant pool from memory of skimming applications.

        The other issue would be getting enough responses to improve on anecdotes. At many places the makeup of the applicant pool isn’t public information; there might be legal issues that prevent disclosure. And even if I did an anonymous poll, some people might hesitate to share what they know, for instance because they’re not sure if it’s legally and ethically ok to disclose it.

    • I guess the key question is whether the skew in applicant pools is coming from the long tail of people who will never get an interview or the smaller fraction who are competitive for an interview. The outcomes, as well as my experiences on search committees at lower R1/R2 universities is its the former (i.e. male skew comes from the long tail, not the highly qualified applicants)

      • Good point. This raises an issue I’ve long toyed with posting on: what does it mean to say that a faculty position is “competitive”, or that the competition for one position is “stronger” than that for another? As you note, number of applicants often will be a lousy measure of “competitiveness”, however defined, because the more applications there are, the larger the fraction of them that will typically be totally non-competitive.

        Interesting question whether the gender balance of “competitive” applicants (perhaps defined as “those that were at least seriously considered for a campus or phone/skype interview”) is different than that for all applicants at research unis. I have no idea.

  3. IMO this is a triumph of merit over bias. I think it reflects the fact that organizations from universities to NGOs to businesses are facing stiff competition and can’t afford to hire weaker candidates to satisfy prejudice.

    • “I certainly wouldn’t say it represents ‘reverse discrimination’ if women are a bit overrepresented among recent tenure-track faculty hires”

      When most new EEB faculty hires are female, why does the “DiversifyEEB” list exclude straight white males, who are apparently *underrepresented* compared to straight white women among new EEB hires?

      When women are overrepresented compared to men throughout the ranks of biological sciences education (now apparently including new hires), why offer women special incentives (e.g., scholarships) to increase their representation? Isn’t it young men who we should be incentivizing if equality of outcome is the goal?

      • “why does the “DiversifyEEB” list exclude straight white males, who are apparently *underrepresented* compared to straight white women among new EEB hires?”

        Why do you keep asking the exact same question on every comment thread here about gender and equity issues, and then ignore the answers you get? One example among several: I’m more than happy to have disagreement with the post, but only from commenters who actually want an answer. Not commenters who seize on any excuse to just repeat themselves over and over and ignore the replies they receive. So consider yourself on notice: if you repeat the same question about DiversifyEEB again without engaging substantively with the answers you’ve already received, I’m going to conclude that you’re not actually interested in a conversation and I’m going to block you. The ball’s in your court.

        “women are overrepresented compared to men throughout the ranks of biological sciences education”

        No they’re not. They remain underrepresented among biology faculty. And relative to their proportion at some earlier stages, they’re underrepresented at some later ones. Drilling down, the overall picture in academic ecology now is one in which women are modestly overrepresented among undergraduates and are statistically a bit more likely than men to make some career transitions, with men remaining overrepresented at some other career stages and statistically a bit more likely than women to make other career transitions. I think that the traditional metaphor of a “leaky pipeline” for women isn’t a great match for this state of affairs in academic ecology, while also finding this state of affairs less than fully ideal. My ideal world is one in which everyone has free choice and truly equal opportunity to make their own choices, at every career stage. I think we’ve made a lot of progress toward that world, but I don’t think we’re there yet. And unlike you, I don’t think concern about underrepresentation of any group at one career stage or across one career transition is mutually exclusive with worrying about the underrepresentation of some other group at some other career stage or across some other career transition. As I said in the post, I don’t think we’re at the point in academic ecology where underrepresentation of men at any stage is worth worrying much about, and it’s not clear we’ll ever get to that point. But as I said in the post, if we do ever get to get to the point where men are severely underrepresented at any career stage, I would consider that a problem in need of a solution.

        EDIT: Oh, and “most” new EEB hires are not female. 57% is not what most people (meaning “a large majority”) would describe as “most”. I’m not ordinarily a pedant about this sort of thing, but given your commenting history here I’m disinclined to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that your poor word choice was merely a slip. In future comments, please choose your words more precisely; it prevents misunderstandings and aids productive conversation.

      • The fact that women are “over represented” by a few percent in few years of hiring is hardly a sign of rev discrimination.

  4. I’m curious as to whether ecologists in general think that the larger number of women being hired is a benefit because:

    A) it reflects the roughly equal ability / merit of men and women; or

    B) because diversity is a benefit on its own, regardless of ability or merit

    I’m curious in particular about what ecologists think because they especially would understand the competing aspects of diversity and conformity. Diversity obviously offers a long term benefit but, in the short run in a static environment, superior performance in a few characteristics might be the optimal strategy…

    • Well as an ecologist I’m excited about both. (A) appeals to my sense of fairness. That is more of an altruistic excitement. But purely selfishly I’m excited about (B). The importance of diversity in companies selling to a diverse customer base is more obvious. As Jeremy pointed out that that applies to university and teaching students. But even if you’re not trying to reach diverse humans, generically I think diversity is important for work environments and good decision making. I say that as somebody who worked in the computer industry that was about 90% male. That was an unhealthy, unpleasant culture that had a poor balance of approaches to decision making. I obviously haven’t done the opposite, but I’ve heard women who have worked in heavily female dominated fields say the same thing.

      On a different axis than gender, studies of group decision making have clearly shown that processes that get input from everybody in the room make better decisions than ones that let the few people who are highly confident dominate the discussion and decision. I think that both is because it captures a diversity of opinions but is also more likely to happen in a culture that is diverse.

      • Thanks, Brian, interesting.

        I guess the idea of marketing to (say) culturally diverse audiences would require cultural diversity, and having a diverse teaching staff might make a diverse student body feel more comfortable. And I agree that confidence doesn’t equal competence, so it’s sensible that having less confident people contribute to a discussion leads to better outcomes.

        But I’m not sure that tapping “less confident” people equals tapping “diversity” as it’s modern definition goes. Does, for example, gender or ethnic diversity make the actual teaching better? Does it give one deeper insight into object oriented programming ecology or volcanology? I’d need to see some pretty strong evidence of that. It seems more likely that the benefit of diversity in technical professions comes from diversity of professional and related experiences.

        Or, another way of putting it, there are only so many body shapes that function in the subsurface intertidal, right? Legs, arms, horns, antlers and tails aren’t much good there. So “diversity” in a given environment may be beneficial but only if it’s held within strict limits, or only along the lines of certain functional adaptations.

        hmmm…I’m still trying to figure out how this peg fits into the hole but it feels like I’m closing in on it.

  5. Yeah, thinking about this further I’d guess that whatever effect diversity has, at least in technical professions, the effect is mostly a sample size effect. So, for example, when we exclude people based on ethnicity or gender, we reduce the size of the talent pool so we have to hire less talented people to fill positions.

    I’m not sure how one would confirm or reject that proposition but it would be interesting to try

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  12. Pingback: Let’s talk career paths – Rapid Ecology

  13. If you calculate the odds ratio of getting a job for men vs. women assuming an equal chance across all individuals within these groups, using an applicant pool that is 46.2% female and a hiring pool that 59% female, a woman has a 68% greater chance of landing a faculty job than man in this market, given these applicant and hiring pool demographics. Code: <- 0.462 <-
    f.hire <- 0.59
    m.hire <- 1-f.hire
    (f.hire/ / (m.hire/

    ~1.68, or 68% greater.

    • I’m not sure that calculation is particularly informative, because as you note it assumes all individuals are identical save for gender, which of course isn’t the case. In practice, many of the applicants for any given position aren’t competitive, due to some combination of lack of fit to the position and weaker cv’s/letters/other materials than other applicants. And the applicant pool for any given position won’t necessarily have the same gender balance as the population of US ecology postdocs.

      But yes, in the aggregate, it is true that the proportion of women among newly hired N. American tenure-track ecology faculty is higher than their proportion among US ecology postdocs.

      EDIT: comment edited to delete some redundant material that just repeats the post. Dan commented in quick succession on two different posts, this one and another, and in my replies I mistakenly thought both of Dan’s comments were on the other post. So in my reply to this comment of Dan’s I referred back to this post, not realizing that was unnecessary.

      • It’s also true that the proportion of women among ecology postdocs is lower than their proportion among recent-ish ecology PhD recipients, which is lower than their proportion among biology undergraduates, which is higher than their proportion among newborns. That is, the ratio of women to men along the typical path from “newborn” to “newly-hired tenure-track N. American ecologist” bounces up and down in a sawtooth fashion. Personally, I don’t think that’s an ideal state of affairs, but it’s a big improvement over what used to be the case several decades ago, and hopefully things will continue to improve.

      • Agreed that in practice many applicants for a given position aren’t competitive, but I don’t believe there is evidence that the proportion of uncompetitive applicants is higher/lower among men/women. Furthermore, if the 30-40% female applicant pool “anecdata” is closer to the mark, then a woman is 2-3x more likely to land a faculty position than a man, all else equal, given these applicant pool vs. hiring demographics.

      • Those anecdata on applicant pools come from people with experience sitting on search committees at big research universities. I strongly suspect (but emphasize that I’m speculating here) that the gender balance of applicant pools varies among institution types. (as an aside, if that is indeed the case, one might wonder why that is, and consider it a symptom of an underlying systemic problem).

        I don’t have data, but it’s possible that uncompetitive applicants tend to skew male (either in absolute terms, and/or relative to the applicant pool as a whole) Or tend to skew female, I suppose. The data just don’t exist.

        More broadly, I wouldn’t take the analogy between faculty hiring and a sampling process quite as literally as you seem to want to take it. Search committees don’t randomly sample the people they interview or hire from the applicant pool. If you “reran the tape of life” and gave the same search committee at the same institution the same applicant pool for the same position again, it’s quite likely that they’d end up interviewing the same people (or at least many of the same people), and quite possibly making an offer to the same person. And I can tell you from looking at some admittedly-crude measures of qualifications of newly-hired ecologists (e.g., h-index, years since PhD) that there’s not much difference in qualifications between the newly-hired men and the newly-hired women.

        My interpretation of the available data, and my own experience and the experiences of those with whom I’ve spoken, is that search committees typically end up with several top applicants who are about equally-well qualified, about equally-good fits, with equally-high potential for future success as best that can be judged, etc., Deciding among those applicants is tough and involves a lot of search- and department-specific considerations, but one common consideration is “which potential hire would most help to diversify our department on various dimensions, thereby hopefully improving the department’s collective ability to (e.g.) teach and mentor the full range of students?” All of which seems sensible, at least to me.

        The available data have many limitations if you want to do a deep dive into how ecology faculty search committees make their decisions. But FWIW, the available data don’t lead me to think that ecology faculty search committees are putting unjustifiably heavy weight on hiring women.

      • Having served on many search committees, had many students interview for jobs and interviewed for many jobs myself I can absolutely dead certain guarantee you a woman is not 2-3x more likely to get a job than a man at any stage of the search process. Ergo assumptions must be wrong, probably based on inconsistent data sets. Could there be a small bias (e.g. odds ratio of 1.2-1) – one couldn’t rule that out without a lot of data that nobody has – but it could go in either direction. And at that level, individual differences still play a critical role. But odds ratios of 2:1 or 3:1, just no. Ridiculous.

        But I also have learned I cannot talk people out of feeling discriminated against.

      • Hi Brian- I don’t feel discriminated against, and I do think it’s important that our field actively intervene to correct for historic and current gender discrimination. I didn’t mean to communicate otherwise, sorry you interpreted my comment like that. I also understand that every particular hiring decision is nuanced, complicated and a ton of things go into them. However, just because every individual decision is complicated and specific, doesn’t mean you can’t learn about the population of hiring decisions in aggregate. I think this is why Jeremy thinks it’s useful and important to summarize the gender balance of those decisions. All I’m doing here is incorporating information about the applicant pool demographics to give more context to the hiring demographics.

      • “All I’m doing here is incorporating information about the applicant pool demographics to give more context to the hiring demographics.”

        Trouble is, the calculations you’re doing aren’t informative, they’re misleading. Yes, as I pointed out in the post, recently-hired ecology faculty skew a bit towards women, compared to US ecology postdocs. I think that’s useful to know, but there a lot of non-mutually-exclusive reasons why that is and I don’t have data to say much more. Which is why I didn’t make the sort of calculation you’re making. As Brian noted, you’re using calculations based on a combination of anecdata and dodgy assumptions to make an obviously-incorrect inference about how much weight ecology faculty hiring committees typically give to gender.

        With respect, I went out of my way to think about my data carefully, phrase my conclusions carefully, and not leap to any unwarranted inferences. I won’t claim that I was perfect, and I’m happy to have misleading or inaccurate statements pointed out to me (I’ll edit them as needed). But I did try my best. I suggest that you do the same.

      • Just for starters, if men apply to more jobs than women, that could explain most of it. It would mean every individual position’s applicant pool is skewed male (which is the data you’re drawing on), but the overall applicant vs job pool need not then be skewed male, and the latter is the relevant comparison. And based on my experiences, men are much more likely to submit applications to jobs they are not close to being a fit for.

        And as Jeremy addressed, its not clear what a “fair” measure of the pool is. If it is PhD students then 59% female hires is just about 1:1. If its postdocs then its a bit more than 1:1, but is that just undoing unfairness at the grad->postdoc stage? Shouldn’t people who choose to study the topic at the grad level be used as the right comparison? Or the people who want a job in academia (which is a largely unknown number but arguably related to # of grad students)?

        And even if it were on some level found that women have an odds ratio >1:1, that doesn’t mean its because of unfairness or favoritism to their gender. There are all kinds of job-relevant factors that have weak correlations with gender (including affinity for biology and at the present time in our society if K-12 staff composition is an indication affinity for teaching) that are more likely to be the causal factor.

        The bottom line is that while the question is a valid one, nobody has the data to answer it, and it would be a subtle, complex philosophical question what is even the right data to answer it.

        But I will repeat that in the real world on the ground, it is not at the present time a highly skewed number (in either direction).

  14. Pingback: Many ecologists’ beliefs about various aspects of the ecology faculty job market are too pessimistic | Dynamic Ecology

  15. Pingback: Newly hired N. American tenure track asst. professors of ecology are 59% women. That’s good news–but most ecologists still don’t know it or can’t quite believe it. Now, please read the whole post. | Dynamic Ecology

  16. Pingback: Friday links: control vs. treat(ment), how to frame your next paper, Marlene Zuk on gender in science, and more | Dynamic Ecology

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