decent increase (6.2 percent), but if one compares the pool size, it’s not good. We’re actually losing people. There are places along the pathway where women seem to get “stuck.”
A look at total faculty at medical schools reveals that 28 percent are female and 12 percent are full professors. Thirty-six percent of eligible males make the transition from assistant to associate professor, while only 24 percent of eligible females make that transition. So for women, this appears to be the sticking point—from assistant professor to associate professor. Women’s attrition rates are slightly higher than those of men, 9.1 compared with 7.7. This then is where we need to focus if we’re going to look at that pathway. We have to decide what we need to do to break down the barriers and keep things moving.
Anyone who wants to succeed in biomedical science needs the imprimatur of the NIH in the form of a research grant. In the competition for NIH R-01 support between 1988 and 1997 by new investigators—that is, applying for the first time—there was no difference between men and women on average. They succeeded about 26 percent of the time. So the women are not less well trained, not less competitive in terms of R-01 funding initially.
In terms of new R-01 awards—that is, people applying for a new grant, not necessarily a new investigator—the rates were about the same for men and women, 18 percent and 17.8 percent. As for success rates for renewal of existing awards, again the rates for men and women were similar—35 and 36 percent. So women who get in the system compete equally with men. No better, no worse.
Overall, then, we move students through a system that has more women initially—completing high school degrees, outpacing men in biology B.A.’s, approaching parity in chemistry B.A.’s, but we still have sticking points. We have a lot to do in moving women into the faculty positions where they can act as mentors and role models, where they are competing with the men and moving science forward. Women are 52 percent of the population; they hold 60 percent of bachelor’s degrees and 45 percent of Ph.D.’s; they make up 40 percent of instructors and 10 percent of full professors. We can’t afford not to take advantage of a labor pool, but all along the way we’re losing women.
Some people think in terms of modeling. If in the model of a system there are very small differences in rates but multiple steps, very large differences appear over time. That’s essentially what we have here—a system with multiple steps and generally small differences in rates. But over time, when those differences multiply, very big differences occur in the end.
Sixty percent of the B.A.’s in biology are earned by women, but only 20 percent of NIH awards are going to female principal investigators. We must do something about this portion of the pathway in careers. We need to bring more women into the senior ranks.