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Institutional Policies and Practices

Previous research on the role of institutions in gender differences among their faculty consisted of two different approaches. One approach focused on structural differences among institutions, arguing that such variables as the type of institution, whether it was a public or private institution, its prestige, whether it was unionized, and even its geographic region could explain some of the differences between male and female faculty members. A more challenging approach focused on the way in which universities worked—hire faculty, grant tenure, and promote faculty—arguing that these policies and procedures could be biased against particular groups of people (see e.g., Gibbons, 1992b; Menges and Exum, 1983; Steinpreis et al., 1999; and Valian, 1998; 2004).7

An example of an important policy affecting women’s academic careers was stopping the tenure clock. By 2004, many universities had such policies in place, but some studies found that faculty were hesitant to make use of such a policy. For many women, the fear that taking an extension might cause their senior colleagues to view them more negatively and hurt their career—an effect not conclusively documented—was sufficient to dissuade them from taking this option (Bhattacharjee, 2004b).

Policies about hiring spouses were also seen as relevant in both hiring and retention of women, as women were more likely than men to be married to other academics. Equally important were policies on child care and parental leave. According to researchers, creating spousal hiring programs and establishing parental leave policies and child care were practices that “would make academic institutions more attractive to prospective candidates of either gender” (Sullivan et al., 2004).

This review of previous literature and research reflects the opinions at the time of this study’s surveys of faculty and departments. They should help to assess the climate at research-intensive institutions at that time and may be helpful in assessing how effective the efforts of these institutions have been since then to improve the representation of women S&E faculty.

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A review by the Women in Science & Engineering Leadership Institute (WISELI) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison titled, “Reviewing Applicants: Research on Bias and Assumptions” identified several studies suggesting that female candidates may have a tougher time. Available at http://wiseli.engr.wisc.edu/doc/BiasBrochure_2ndEd.pdf [accessed on October 7, 2008].



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