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Education and Academic Career Outcomes for Women of Color in Science and Engineering

This report uses national statistics to quantify the under-representation of women of color (WOC) in science and engineering (S&E) academic careers. It then identifies the stages of WOC’s educational and career development that are key to this under- representation of WOC in S&E academia. Armed with this knowledge, those concerned about this under-representation can target interventions and policies that will be the most effective at increasing diversity in academic careers.

Using a variety of data sources including longitudinal NSF data, we find that WOC are less likely than white women to graduate from college, to obtain a PhD in S&E fields, and to obtain a tenure-track job at non-minority serving institutions other than top universities. In addition, WOC are more likely to be employed in non-tenure track positions in academia and be employed at minority-serving institutions. Neither high school graduation nor academic tenure and promotion are the primary reasons that WOC are under-represented. Instead, the transition from high school graduation to college graduation, from college S&E major to S&E PhD, and finally the transition from an S&E PhD to a tenure-track job in a non-URM university are the key points where WOC are dropping out.

The remainder of the paper is organized as follows. After summarizing the literature on academic WOC, we describe the most recent data on the racial and gender distribution of academics in S&E fields. We then evaluate race/ethnicity and gender differences in education pathways including high school graduation, undergraduate major in S&E fields, college graduation, and PhD in S&E fields. Turning to academic career outcomes, we measure the likelihood of obtaining a tenure track job within six years of the PhD, of being awarded tenure within 11 years of the PhD, and of being promoted to full professor within seven years of receiving tenure. The final section discusses the implications of our results.

1.      Background

Many science organizations and researchers have documented the under-representation of women and minorities in academic S&E (NCSES 2011, NSB 2012, NSF 2011, Nelson &Brammer 2007). Together these studies find that women and under-represented minorities make up smaller and smaller percentages of total academic S&E faculty as one proceeds up the academic ranks. However, few studies have examined the ‘double-bind’ – the representation of women of color (WOC) in S&E academic careers (Leggon 2006, Towns 2010). Leggon (2006) argues that data need to be disaggregated by race/ethnicity and gender in order to study WOC. Further, she conjectures that the tenure process may disadvantage WOC in academic careers but does not test this hypothesis with data. Towns (2010) uses data from Nelson & Brammer (2007) to show that there are few WOC in the top 100 S&E departments funded by the NSF. However, Towns does not explore the underlying causes of under-representation.

Much of the research on WOC in S&E academe has focused on their qualitative experiences as S&E faculty members (Malcolm & Malcolm 2011, Turner et al. 2011, Turner et al. 2008, MacLachlan 2000). Turner et al. (2008) reviews the mostly qualitative literature on faculty of color in academe and reports that the literature shows that faculty of color cite under-valuation of their research interests, isolation, and lack of department and institutional efforts to recruit and retain a diverse faculty as issues confronting them in academic careers. Ong et al.

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