Strategies for Recruitment, Retention, Mentoring of Women in STEM: U.S.-German Perspectives
•University of Cologne
•German Center for Research and Innovation
Dr. Anja Steinbeck, Pro-Rector for Planning, Finance, and Gender at the University of Cologne, referenced the alarmingly high drop-out rate of women in STEM after the Ph.D. phase in Germany, even amongst women who were originally in the majority within their specific discipline at the graduate level (e.g. in biology). One reason for this attrition is the poor working conditions for junior researchers, as they often only receive part-time and fixed-term contracts. This job insecurity, coupled with a professional culture that expects 24/7 availability, deters many women from the field, as circumstances are not conducive to a balanced family life. To counteract this trend, an institutional framework by the German Research Foundation, federal state governments, and individual universities is necessary. The University of Cologne is a leader in this area, offering dual career and family support, setting gender-specific target agreements with faculties, and devoting extra attention to gender-sensitive recruitment. Members of selection committees must undergo special hiring training that heightens awareness that faculty members tend to hire their peers. As Dr. Steinbeck put it, “Men recruit men,” often unintentionally, perpetuating gender inequality within academia.
Dr. Jackie Krasas, Director of Women’s Studies and Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Lehigh University, introduced the NSF-funded program “ADVANCE,” whose motto is, “Do not change women, but institutions!” Women are in the “pipeline” for becoming successful STEM researchers, but this pipeline is not just “leaking” – it is “blocked.” Once women have been hired into STEM positions, it is equally imperative to have adequate measures in place to keep them. Thus, sociological data about women in the workplace needs to be put to use by the “world of science” to actively “unblock” this pipeline. Despite marked progress, inequities for female researchers still exist, including less research funding, smaller lab spaces, and underrepresentation in candidate lists for tenure. Lehigh University is targeting interdisciplinary work and recruitment as key areas to enable change. Recruiters are informed about instances of unconscious bias, such as in letters of recommendation, where women, in comparison to their male counterparts, are often described more in terms of personality than by scholarly achievements.
Dr. Shobha Bhatia, Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Co-Director of the Women in Science and Engineering Initiative at Syracuse University, presented the SU ADVANCE program, focusing on the Corridor Initiative. This initiative encourages cross-sector research as a successful means of helping female STEM faculty excel. Core activities of the initiative include administering small interdisciplinary research grants to enable women to attend conferences, workshops, and panels, as well promoting the creation of professional faculty profiles and encouraging on-campus visits by female industry leaders and researchers. These efforts seek to counteract the isolation women often feel in traditional department contexts and the fact that female research networks tend to be more localized. By addressing these challenges, the SU ADVANCE program has enhanced the visibility of talented women on campus. Dr. Bhatia recounted one example of this heightened exposure, as one male faculty member remarked to her: “I hadn’t realized there were this many amazing female faculty.”
Dr. Britt Dahmen, Director of the Gender Management Unit at the University of Cologne, described her office not only as a networking link within the university, but also as a collector of related data and a negotiator of gender-specific targets with departments. The dual career and family policy of the University of Cologne supports newly-appointed professors by providing advice on housing, childcare, eldercare, their partner’s job search, and work-life balance. The Gender Management Unit also offers childcare and organizes children’s holiday camps. In addition, it administers grants to support family life, as well as special programs for women who took a leave of absence due to family obligations and now want to re-enter university life. Guiding women throughout every stage of their scientific careers is integral to the university’s successful institutional framework that addresses gender disparities.
Dr. Diane Hyland, Senior Associate Dean for Faculty and Staff at Lehigh University, presented studies on interdisciplinary work and job satisfaction in academia, particularly at mid-sized institutions, like her own. These studies showed that women in STEM are a heterogeneous group, as findings varied immensely by field of discipline. In general, participating in interdisciplinary research enhances job satisfaction for women; however, the fear that individual scholarly achievements may not be recognized when participating in collaborative projects remains a valid concern. Encouragingly, the study also revealed that as more gender equality policies are installed, satisfaction rates become progressively higher.