A bit of good news that most ecologists weren’t expecting: recent ecology hires are gender balanced (updated periodically)

Most recent update: Dec. 30, 2016. To date, all updates have introduced only tiny quantitative changes to the original results, no substantive changes.

Recently I decided to quantify the gender balance of recently-hired ecology faculty in North America. “Recent” being operationally defined as “hired in 2015-16, or in a few cases in 2014”. Data on the gender balance of faculty is widely available only at the level of very broadly-defined fields like “biology”. Current faculty gender balance mostly (not entirely) reflects the long-term legacy of past hiring and tenure practice rather than current hiring practice (Shaw and Stanton 2012; ht Shan Kothari via the comments). And nobody’s anecdotal experience informs them about the outcomes of more than a tiny fraction of all ecology searches in any given year. So this seemed like a topic on which many people would welcome some reasonably comprehensive data. Follow the link for more details on how I compiled the data. In that old post, I also conducted a poll asking readers what they expected me to find.

Here are the answers: what fraction of recently-hired North American ecologists are women, and what do ecologists think that fraction is?

Many of you are going to be pleasantly surprised…

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Poll: guess the gender balance of recently-hired North American ecologists (UPDATED; poll now closed)

Many academic fields are staffed by a male-biased mix of faculty. But the existence and degree of faculty gender imbalance varies among fields. Further, those fields often are quite broadly defined in published datasets (e.g., “biology”), which can leave many people wondering how well published data apply to their own, narrower field (e.g., “ecology”). Gender balance of academic fields also changes over time, but only slowly. Published data therefore only give you an imperfect sense of the gender balance of recent hires in your field. And personal anecdotes and experiences provide only a very small sample. Every year there are many dozens of faculty hired in ecology and closely-allied fields, but nobody hears through the grapevine about the outcomes of more than a small fraction of those hires.

So I decided to quantify the gender balance of recently-hired ecology faculty at North American colleges and universities. I’m doing it by going through this very comprehensive list of all ecology & evolution faculty positions advertised in 2015-16, and checking the university websites to identify who was hired. This turns out to be really easy in many cases, and difficult or impossible in the remaining cases (I therefore remove from the dataset). To keep things manageable, I’m skipping positions outside North America, of which there are very few on the linked list. I’m also skipping non-ecology positions, of which there are many. So not, e.g., biology, anatomy & physiology, genomics, evolution, paleontology, museum curator, science education, etc., even though some of those positions might have been filled by ecologists. But I’m defining “ecology” pretty broadly so as to include fields in which people who self-identify as ecologists often apply for and obtain positions. “Ecology” for purposes of this exercise includes wildlife management, conservation, ecological genetics, ecological physiology, evolutionary ecology, microbial ecology, fisheries, etc. My judgments on what constitutes “ecology” obviously are somewhat subjective and arbitrary, but I don’t see why that would affect the results. To focus on new faculty, I’m only looking at assistant professor positions, so ignoring the (very few) ads for heads of department, program directors, endowed senior chairs, etc. See the footnote (*) at the end for more nitty-gritty details on my procedure. UPDATE: To be clear, I’m including positions at all types of institutions, not just R1 universities. And you should do the same when answering the poll below. I’ll present the results broken down by institution type for anyone who’s curious about that.

I’ll present the results in a future post, in a sufficiently-complete form that you can go back and reproduce my work if you wish.

But before I show the results, I’m very curious what you think I’ll find. So below is a little poll. What do you think is the gender balance of recently hired North American ecology faculty? (UPDATE Nov. 10: responses have slowed to a tiny trickle, so I’ve closed the poll so that I can start analyzing the results. We already have 468 respondents–thanks to everyone who responded!)

p.s. Obviously, these data won’t tell you whether the outcome of any particular search was fair, much less whether every individual applicant for every position was evaluated fairly. And I have no way to collect lots of contextual information that you might want in order to interpret the results, such as the gender mix of the applicant pool for every position. In that future post I’ll talk more about what I think we can and can’t learn from these data.

*Failed searches are among those for which I can’t tell who was hired, so they automatically get dropped from the dataset. The difficulty of identifying who was hired mostly has to do with departmental web page design, so I’m confident that the easily-identifiable hires are a random sample of the population with respect to gender balance. A couple of times, I’ve determined that a position that I thought was ecological wasn’t filled by an ecologist; I’m dropping those cases from the dataset.  I’m being careful to remove duplicate ads from the list so that I don’t double-count anyone. I’m including some other recent (2015-16) hires that weren’t on the linked list. I learned about these either from colleagues, or by stumbling across them while checking on listed positions. A few of the hires I stumbled across might actually be 2014 hires, but I’m fine with that because those are still very recent hires. In every case so far, gender has been obvious from the person’s name and photo.

Redacted ecology faculty search (UPDATED)

Duke is hiring an ecologist. And in an attempt to avoid bias, the initial stage of the search will be conducted on redacted applications. Applicants are asked to provide two copies of their cv’s, research statements, and teaching statements: a normal copy, and a copy from which the following information is redacted:

  • All mentions of the applicant’s name, date of birth, birthplace, citizenship, ethnicity, and gender.
  • The names of all co-authors on publications. The only authorship information to be provided is the number of authors and the applicant’s place in the author list. So for instance, your cv would list publications like this: “Second of two authors. 1974. Disturbance, patch formation and community structure. Proceeding of the National Academy of Science USA 71:2744-2747.”
  • The names and contact details of references.

Presumably, you’d also need to redact the names of PIs and co-PIs from grants, the names of co-authors of conference presentations, and various other bits of information, but the ad doesn’t say that.

I think this is an interesting experiment to address an important issue, and I think it’s a credit to the folks at Duke that they take the issue sufficiently seriously to be willing to take a step like this (EDIT: To be clear, I don’t necessarily agree that the specific step they’re taking is the right one. But that they’re willing to take this step is a sign of how seriously they take the issue, and it’s good that they take it seriously). It’s not an unprecedented step. UConn EEB did a version of this for a couple of searches a couple of years ago, though I hear through the grapevine that they’ve now gone back to doing conventional searches (anyone know more about that?) (UPDATE: Mark Urban from UConn has commented on UConn’s experience; thanks very much to Mark for sharing this.)

Some thoughts and questions below the fold.

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Ask us anything: how to be an ally

A while back we invited you to ask us anything. Here’s our first of these answers, to a question from Kevin Chase. (The question has been paraphrased for brevity, click through for the original.) What is the best way that I, as a white male scientist, can help women and non-white scientists? Most of the AUA replies will be joint posts, but I’m writing this reply on my own.

Disclaimer: I’ve read about this topic a fair amount, but am not an expert in this. So, I present this as my take on the topic, based on my experiences and readings to date, but with the acknowledgment up front that I certainly have more to learn about this area.

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Sciencing with an infant, revisited

A bit over a year ago, I wrote a blog post on sciencing with an infant *, based on a request from a reader. It’s a topic that comes up regularly when I meet people at conferences or on seminar visits; these days, it comes up almost every day. I thought about that post sometimes after having my third child this past winter, and thought it worth revisiting the topic. As I said in that post, “I know that everyone’s situation is different and what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another”. One thing I thought about a lot this time is that that sentiment could be extended to say “what worked after the birth of one child won’t necessarily work after the birth of another”. Perhaps that’s obvious, but it was really striking to me this time. The tl;dr is that I had a much harder time trying to get work done with an infant this time, and needed to be reminded that I need to put my own oxygen mask on first.

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Bonus Friday Link: 13th consecutive male Waterman Award winner

NSF has announced this year’s Waterman Award winner, chemist Mircea Dincã. He is clearly an excellent scientist, but I am disappointed to see that NSF’s streak of male award winners continues. Dincã is the 13th consecutive man to win the award, over the past 12 years. (In 2012, two men won the award.)

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DiversifyEEB: Introducing a new resource for ecology and evolutionary biology

Note from Meg: This is a guest post by Gina Baucom, a colleague of mine and my partner in creating DiversifyEEB. Here, Gina has written a guest post describing the initiative. We’re hoping to follow up with more posts in the future!

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Musings of a very tired, still pregnant scientist

Right now, I’m 9 months pregnant and waiting on my baby to decide it’s time to make his entrance. During the semester break, there wasn’t much expectation that I’d do work, so it wasn’t a problem that I mostly didn’t feel like working. But, the semester is starting up again, and I’m feeling more pressure to work. Admittedly, much of that is self-imposed, but I think it’s also driven by a general sense (in the US, at least), that women should generally work right up until having a baby. I suspect that general sense in the US is a combined effect of our culture of overwork, plus our poor parental leave policies. If you take a couple of weeks off prior to having the baby, and you only have a total of 6 weeks to take off for maternity leave (and not everyone gets even that much), then you’ve only left yourself 4 weeks home after having the baby for recovery and bonding. That’s not much time.

In thinking about this, one thing I’ve been thinking about is how I thought about this before having kids. Back then, I think I had the standard US mentality – that, unless there was some health problem, mom would work right up until giving birth. I had heard stories from women who talked about finishing up a committee meeting while in labor, then heading straight to the hospital, or of being in the field collecting soil cores the day before giving birth. Prior to having kids, that seemed like a normal thing to do to me, not something that required being Superwoman.

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Reproduction is energetically costly

At present, I am teaching a large course (~550 students) while 7.5 months pregnant. All semester, I’ve been torn between not wanting to make a big deal of it, since I don’t want it to seem like pregnant women are less able instructors, and feeling like I cannot ignore the biological reality that pregnancy, even an uncomplicated one, is very physically demanding.

I don’t think things have been any different for my students – I still give back-to-back 80 minute lectures twice a week*, I still hold office hours (and schedule meetings with students who can’t make those), I still prepare quizzes and write exams, I still attend prep sessions where we get all our TAs (known as Graduate Student Instructors or GSIs at Michigan) up to speed on the following week’s discussion materials, I still send emails and make phone calls to deal with the myriad of issues that inevitably come up in a class this size. But, while my students aren’t affected, I am completely, utterly exhausted, especially by Friday afternoon.

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It can be really hard to get into daycare

The title of this post isn’t a news flash to any American parent who needs childcare, but it is something that I think can catch non-parents and people expecting their first child off guard. The particular timing of this post was triggered by reading the following in The Bump’s pregnancy app entry for someone at 29 weeks gestation (bold is mine):

Week 29 is a good time to start finalizing stuff, like stocking the nursery with baby care essentials and checking out a few potential daycares.*

This made me laugh. 29 weeks is a good time to start checking out a few potential daycares? This does not match at all with my experiences or those of people I know. In the US, due to really poor parental leave policies, it is common for women to take only 6 weeks to a few months off from work after giving birth.** Dads often take less time off from work (sometimes just a few days). In my experience, these numbers apply to faculty, too, though the situation can be much worse for adjunct faculty. This means that many families where both parents work end up needing childcare for their children while they are still very young. Because the ratio of care providers to children scales with age, with babies needing the most intensive care, finding childcare for a baby anywhere from 6 weeks through 1 year is especially hard.

When I was pregnant with my first, I waited until late in my first trimester to put myself on lists. We knew it would be hard to get in, but I didn’t feel comfortable going on tours of the facilities (and some of them required tours to go on the wait list) while in my first trimester, especially since we generally knew several families at the daycares we were considering. We put ourselves on the wait lists at four daycares. One of them was the Georgia Tech daycare. Another was very close to campus, but not affiliated with Georgia Tech. That daycare told me that the more I called, the more likely I was to get in.*** In the end, we got into that daycare (see footnote for more explanation). We never got into the Georgia Tech one, even though my husband and I both were affiliated with the university. We moved when our daughter was about 1.5 year. A colleague had told me his son didn’t get in until he was 3, so that wasn’t totally surprising.

At the University of Michigan, there are three daycares. One is adjacent to Central Campus, one is on North Campus, and one is affiliated with the Med School. Our children go to the daycare near Central Campus. We love the daycare and the teachers, and are really happy that our children go there. But it’s very lucky that they do – if we hadn’t moved with a toddler (who got the last available spot in a toddler room at the facility), we wouldn’t have been able to get our son in when he was born.**** This daycare – which, again, is one of only three for a very, very large university – has only nine spots in the infant room. Nine. That means that, as far as I know, the spots in the infant room almost always (or maybe always) go to younger siblings of children who are already there. Even with the boost of having an older sibling there, it’s not guaranteed that a baby will be able to get in. So, for this pregnancy, the person who manages the daycare list was the third person to know I was pregnant. When people I know are expecting their first child and ask me about daycare, I tell them that I love the UMich daycare, but that they probably won’t be able to get a spot there in the infant room, and that they should put themselves on lists elsewhere, too. And that they should do that right away.

I realize that my family is incredibly fortunate to have access to high quality, conveniently located daycare, and to be able to afford that daycare.***** The issue of how limited infant daycare spots are relates to much larger systemic issues in the US: the very limited parental leave that most parents are afforded, and the lack of societal support for daycare (and, more generally, care for others, including eldercare). I feel both like I pay a jaw-dropping amount for daycare, and like the daycare teachers are paid nowhere near what they should be. Those economic factors play a key role in the lack of infant daycare spots: they are very, very expensive for a daycare to run. (As I said above, the caregiver:child ratio required for infants makes them the most expensive for a daycare.) All of which is to say: unfortunately, I don’t have any ideas for an easy fix to the problem. But, based on my experience, finding quality daycare in the US takes a lot of time. Would it be possible to find daycare for an infant on short notice? Yes, and I know people who’ve done this (e.g., because of a major problem with their previous daycare). But that’s a really stressful way to do it, and most people I know have needed much longer to work out a daycare spot for an infant. So, if I created a pregnancy app******, it would say to start looking some time during the first trimester.

* Other thoughts related to this quote and pregnancy apps in general: 1) I am nowhere near stocking a nursery with baby care essentials. Such is life for baby #3. 2) I love this McSweeney’s post that pokes fun at how these apps and websites always compare a baby’s size to produce.

** When I was pregnant with my first, a well-meaning colleague told me that I needed to get back to work within a few days (5, to be specific). She pointed out that it wouldn’t be good for my body, but it’s just what needs to happen. Fortunately, this advice seemed so wrong to me that it was easy for me to ignore. Even if I had wanted to follow it, it would not have been physically possible for me to do so – I was in the hospital for 5 days for that birth.

*** This seems to suggest that these lists are more fluid than I would have expected. And, even with calling regularly, I learned that a colleague who had gotten on the list after me (I knew she’d gotten on it after me because I was the one who told her about the daycare), with a due date within a week of mine, had heard her child had been given a spot but mine hadn’t. I called them and pointed that out, and suddenly it went from there not having been any space available to us having a spot. Based on this experience, I called quite frequently when we were on waitlists in Michigan.

**** I’ve had people tell me that they heard we got into the UMich daycare because I negotiated it as part of my hiring. That’s not true. It never even occurred to me to ask, even though finding daycare was a major concern of mine related to the move.

***** There are subsidies available for students who have children in daycare.

****** Now that I’ve typed this, I think maybe I should create a pregnancy app. Instead of produce, I could compare the developing baby to the size of different animals. “This week, your baby is the size of a Daphnia magna!” I’m sure it would be very popular.