Office of Communications
22 Chambers St.
Princeton, New Jersey 08542
Telephone 609-258-3601; Fax 609-258-1301

For immediate release: September 29, 2003
Contact: Steven Schultz, (609) 258-5729, sschultz@princeton.edu

Task force on women in the natural sciences and engineering issues report:
Princeton has made progress, but there is more work to be done

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Princeton University has made considerable progress in attracting and retaining women scientists and engineers during the last decade, but should undertake a wide range of initiatives to address imbalances that remain between women and men in these fields, according to a study conducted by faculty members.

The Task Force on the Status of Women Faculty in the Natural Sciences and Engineering, appointed by President Shirley M. Tilghman and chaired by Professor of Molecular Biology Virginia Zakian, issued the report Sept. 29 after more than a year of analysis and interviews. The task force grew out of a meeting at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2001 at which the leaders of nine research universities, including Princeton, pledged to work toward the full inclusion of women in scientific disciplines.

As a first step, the group analyzed hiring records, salaries, the rates at which men and women are granted tenure, the allocation of laboratory space and research funding and other factors. The task force went on to make a series of recommendations, including the appointment of a special assistant to the dean of the faculty to oversee matters of gender equity. The University also announced that appointment on Sept. 29 (see related release).

In some respects, the task force's findings showed that progress has been made over the last 10 years. From 1992 to 2002, the percentage of women faculty members in the natural sciences and engineering increased from 8.4 percent to 13.9 percent and the number of women in these departments with tenure more than doubled. Some departments made impressive gains: ecology and evolutionary biology went from no women faculty to four (29 percent), and chemical engineering went from none to three (17 percent). In addition, the committee did not find a difference between male and female faculty in salaries or tenure rates.

However, progress in hiring women was unevenly distributed among the 14 natural science and engineering departments and the overall numbers of women remained low. Only two departments had more than 20 percent women faculty. Four departments had no percentage increase in women faculty, including operations research and financial engineering (formed in 1999), which had no women faculty. One department, molecular biology, saw its proportion of women decline. While nine departments had percentages of women in 2002 that approximated or even exceeded the representation of women receiving Ph.D.s in their fields between 1991 and 1996, four others appeared to have "substantially underutilized" the available talent in the last decade. In addition, women are underrepresented in departmental leadership positions; for example, only two departments in the sciences and engineering have had a female chair. While male and female faculty had equal tenuring rates, it took longer for women to be promoted from associate to full professor.

In surveys, considerably fewer women than men reported a sense of collegiality, inclusion and job satisfaction. Female assistant professors were also less likely than males to report being mentored. Finding suitable employment for spouses of faculty is a problem for male and female faculty but is more of a problem for females who are more likely than male faculty to be married to someone who works full time. While male and female faculty reported difficulties with day care availability, this problem was more frequently reported by female faculty, and female faculty were also more likely to report conflicts between daycare hours and University activities. Twenty-four percent of women surveyed reported that their colleagues "occasionally" or "frequently" engage in unprofessional behavior on gender-related matters.

The goal of the task force was to establish facts and find solutions, said task force chair Zakian.

"As an institution, Princeton is in good shape in some areas but less so in others," she said. "In general, women hired at Princeton have done about as well as men. However, the number of women faculty remains small, and women are not as professionally satisfied at Princeton as their male colleagues."

"I hope people come away from this report understanding that the University is committed to solving this problem," Zakian said. "It is not going to be business as usual. We are going to move forward, and there are specific things we can do."

In addition to proposing the appointment of a special assistant to the dean of the faculty, which has been done, some of the recommendations of the task force were:

  • Establish a $10 million fund to "promote the recruitment, hiring and retention of women faculty" in the sciences and engineering;
  • Promote centralized monitoring of recruiting and hiring practices in the sciences and engineering and maintain better records on faculty searches;
  • Take an active role in helping spouses of recruited faculty to find suitable positions;
  • Create affordable childcare and provide automatic "tenure clock" extension for both men and women who become parents;
  • Give priority in housing and parking to University employees who are primary care givers of young children;
  • Provide professional mentoring for all junior faculty members;
  • Develop clearer policies and better record-keeping regarding promotions, allocation of resources and other matters;
  • Publicize and continue to enforce Princeton's already strong policies prohibiting all forms of harassment and discrimination.

"I am very pleased with the analysis, thoroughness and vision that the task force has brought to this important and complex problem," Tilghman said. "The task force is correct that we need to do better. This is a high priority for Princeton, and I am grateful to the task force for providing us with extensive information and many excellent recommendations.”

Tilghman said the next step will be to solicit input from the broader University community regarding the task force's findings and recommendations. The report is being distributed to all faculty members and has been scheduled for discussion at the next general faculty meeting on Oct. 13.

One purpose of the task force, said Zakian, was to find solutions that would improve matters of gender equity, but that were not targeted solely toward the sciences and engineering or even solely toward women. Issues of childcare and mentoring, for example, affect everyone, she said. "Some problems fall harder on women than men, but these initiatives would make Princeton a better university for everybody."

Zakian noted that Tilghman recently appointed a Task Force on Health and Well-Being that will look into issues such as childcare.

In addition to Zakian, members of the task force were: Bruce Draine, professor of astrophysical sciences; Lin Ferrand, associate dean of the faculty; Joan Girgus, professor of psychology; Ruby Lee, professor of electrical engineering; Christina Paxson, professor of economics and public affairs; Catherine Peters, professor of civil and environmental engineering; Dan Rubenstein, professor and chair of ecology and evolutionary biology; Sandra Troian, professor of chemical engineering; Suzanne Walker, professor of chemistry; and Bess Ward, professor of geosciences.

Note: The full report is available online.


back  |  top