Gender balance of the faculty and chairs of N. American EEB departments

As best one can tell from publicly available information, recently hired N. American (US & Canada) TT asst. professors in ecology and allied fields are 57% women, somewhat higher than their representation in the applicant pool. That’s a bit of good news, it represents real systemic progress in this one narrow area, and it hopefully facilitates systemic progress in other areas. For instance, it’s easier to achieve gender-equitable service loads, while also having diverse committees, if departments have more women faculty.

But of course, those data don’t tell you anything about hiring before 2015-16, and those past hiring decisions are still having consequences today. Nor do those data tell you anything about tenure and promotion decisions, either currently or in the past. And they don’t tell you who holds senior leadership positions like department chair/head. We can look at public data to get some insight. But public data are aggregated very broadly by field (for instance), and there is considerable variation among fields and even subfields in terms of representation of women.

So to get a snapshot of the current state of play at a systemic level in ecology & evolutionary biology (EEB), I looked up the gender balance of tenured and TT faculty in 23 N. American EEB departments (22 US departments plus Toronto), splitting the data by rank (asst., associate, or full professor).

That was all the EEB departments I could find with casual googling and my own background knowledge. A couple of them weren’t literally “EEB” departments, but they were close (e.g., Harvard OEB, Rutgers DEENR, Georgia Odum School of Ecology). I focused on EEB departments because that was much easier than tallying up biology departments or NatRes departments, or just picking out the ecologists and evolutionary biologists within biology departments. These EEB departments are all at R1 universities (or their Canadian equivalent, in the case of Toronto). They’re all very research-intensive departments. So you can probably assume that the representation of women in these departments is a rough lower bound for the current representation of women among all N. American tenured and TT faculty in ecology and evolution, because representation of women among faculty in all fields tends to decrease with increasing institutional research intensiveness.

I only counted tenured and TT faculty, not emeritus faculty, adjuncts, professors of the practice, soft money research professors, affiliate faculty, etc. I counted the very few jointly-appointed faculty, and the very few profs who currently hold admin positions such as deans. I counted tenured and TT profs with exclusively or primarily teaching duties, though there were few of those and the results don’t change appreciably if you drop them from the dataset. I counted “distinguished professor” and “professor II” (a Rutgers-specific rank) as full professor. I also recorded the gender of the department chair or head.

I evaluated gender by names and photos, and pronouns in social media profiles where available. Using a gender binary, and evaluating it using names and photos, obviously is an imperfect approach. Gender isn’t binary, and non-binary ecologists and evolutionary biologists are our colleagues. The hope with this analysis, as with the many analyses by others using similar methods (example, example, example) is that the information provided by this imperfect approach makes a small but positive net contribution towards improving diversity and equity.

Here are the data:

Asst. profs: 63/118 women (53%)

Associate profs: 48/120 women (40%)

Full profs: 99/357 women (28%)

Dept. heads/chairs: 10/23 women (43%)

A few comments:

The percentage women among assistant profs in EEB departments is almost bang-on identical to their percentage among recent TT hires in ecology and allied fields at US & Canadian research universities. From this, I tentatively infer that TT faculty hiring in ecology and allied fields has been slightly more than 50% women at research universities for at least 6 years (the typical length of time asst profs spend at that rank). That inference is tentative because of course I don’t actually have data on faculty hiring in evolutionary biology, or in ecology from before 2015-16. Nor do I have data on the frequency with which asst profs in EEB departments leave before coming up for tenure, or their reasons for doing so (see here for some data on that that’s not specific to EEB). But I’m pretty sure that hiring events substantially outnumber events of asst. profs leaving before coming up for tenure, hence my tentative inference that the gender balance of EEB asst. profs mostly (not entirely) reflects the gender balance of hires.

The decreasing percentage of women as one moves up the ranks in EEB departments is depressing but unsurprising. It’s what you’d expect to see based on data from broader fields like biology. The data in this post can’t tell you the extent to which the decreasing percentage of women as you move up the ranks in EEB departments is a legacy of past hiring decisions, vs. recent or past tenure and promotion decisions, vs. people leaving for other faculty positions or retiring. Shaw & Stanton (2012; great paper) present long-term data that speak to some of these non-mutually-exclusive possibilities. I plan to go back to my list of recently-hired TT ecology profs in 4 or 5 years to see who got tenure, who moved institutions, and who left academia.

I think it’s good news on balance that women are appreciably overrepresented among EEB department chairs/heads compared to their representation among EEB full professors, or even among EEB tenured professors. I say “on balance” because obviously, it’s bad if the admin and service work in a department falls disproportionately on women’s shoulders. But equally obviously, it’s bad if women are passed over for leadership positions. So on balance, I think it’s a good thing that relatively many EEB departments are currently led by women, compared to women’s representation among full professors in those departments. That seems like a small sign of systemic progress to me, and hopefully also one driver (among many others) of further systemic progress. But I acknowledge that the sample size here is small and this could be a blip that will vanish in a few years.

p.s. I did not calculate the percentages of women faculty who are assistant vs. associate vs. full profs. You’re welcome to do it yourself if you want to; this post provides all the data you’d need. But personally, I find that calculation hard to interpret and so not very useful. For instance, if the percentage of women among recently hired asst. profs was low in the past and subsequently increased because more women were hired, that increase would be good news. But by adding more women to the population of assistant professors,  in the short term that hiring would also reduce the percentage of women faculty who hold a senior rank–which I’ve seen presented as bad news in some places. The fact that the distribution of women faculty among ranks currently skews more junior than that of male faculty is not good or bad news to my mind, because it is consistent with many different mixes of good and bad trends in representation of women.