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USD aims to recruit, retain female STEM faculty

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“A diverse faculty enriches the university with a variety of ideas, viewpoints and experiences, and provides support and role models for our diverse student body.”

- Perla Myers, PhD

The University of San Diego recently began a five-year project to recruit and advance female faculty in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The project, Advancing Female Faculty: Institutional Climate, Recruitment and Mentoring (AFFIRM), is designed to promote a workplace that supports women faculty, especially women of color, at every stage of professional development.

“We’re excited about the opportunity to become a model for undergraduate institutions that want to increase their diversity and provide a supportive environment for female faculty,” said Mary Boyd, dean of USD’s College of Arts and Sciences.

Boyd, Principal Investigator for AFFIRM, works closely with a group of faculty leaders: Michelle Camacho, PhD; Lisa Baird, PhD; Sandra Sgoutas-Emch, PhD; Perla Myers, PhD; Jane Friedman, PhD, and Susan Lord, PhD. The project is supported by a $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

Research shows that the percentage of women faculty in STEM subjects is less than the percentage of women in corresponding doctoral programs. Additionally, women have secured a significantly smaller percentage of tenured positions.

“Women of all ethnic groups continue to be concentrated at the lower ranks, typically non-benefits-based positions characterized by low pay,” Camacho said. “Women, Black women, Latinas, and American Indian/Alaska Native women are comparatively overrepresented at the less stable positions of lecturer/instructor. Thus, gender is salient in understanding academic rank.”

According to Camacho, these disparities could be caused by factors such as limited support for academic mothers/caregivers, and work overload among minority faculty, who are often stretched thin in their efforts to advise campus diversity groups and mentor students of color. Feelings of isolation create further problems for professional advancement.

The AFFIRM team has identified three objectives for the betterment of women STEM faculty at USD:

  1. To improve institutional climate
  2. To enhance methods of recruitment, and
  3. To promote career advancement for female STEM faculty

Camacho will chair a committee to improve institutional climate—that is, the overall mood and perceptions affecting female hiring and advancement. After surveying current faculty to establish a baseline, this team will utilize a unique approach known as interactive theatre. Actors will portray scenes related to USD’s climate, inviting STEM faculty and administrators to discuss solutions with the help of a moderator.

According to a project overview, “The enactment accomplishes what many didactic faculty workshops attempt to convey, but differs because faculty become involved in generating interventions and possible solutions to the problem.”

Baird will head a committee to improve recruitment practices. Her team will research and implement strategies to attract women faculty, especially women of color. Every step of the hiring process will be evaluated and reworked to reduce bias.

“Many of the ways that jobs are advertised and recruited, and job interviews are conducted have changed little in response to the changing workforce,” Baird said.

Baird will also oversee the advancement objective. In order to support female professional growth at USD, this committee will implement a mentorship program as well as a guest lecturer program. Each new female faculty will be assigned two mentors—one from her department and one from outside her department.

“Our mentees get both an insider’s view and access to someone who can provide a wider USD perspective and who can be a confidant, if needed, on sensitive departmental issues,“ Friedman said.

In addition, the university will host a series of distinguished professors; women of color who have found success in academia.

“Each of these women can speak about her personal journey to achieving tenure and promotion, which will be meaningful to other women,” Lord said. “I am personally looking forward to interacting with these distinguished visitors, being inspired by their stories, and gaining practical knowledge from their advice.”

The AFFIRM team believes that these initiatives have multiple benefits. In addition to supporting the unique career needs of women STEM faculty, this project can enhance the undergraduate experience of all students.

“A diverse faculty enriches the university with a variety of ideas, viewpoints and experiences, and provides support and role models for our diverse student body,” said Myers.

The retention of a diverse faculty has also shown to improve retention rates of students of color.

“Research in higher education shows that retention of students of color is directly related to a diverse faculty,” said Sgoutas-Emch. “If USD wants to be successful in not just recruiting students of color but retaining these students, we need to do a better job of recruiting and retaining faculty of color.”

- Anne Malinoski ‘11

Useful Links

Click here to learn more about AFFIRM. CAS Biography: Mary Boyd, PhD
CAS Hallmarks: Diversity and Inclusion Women's and Gender Studies at USD
USD Department of Ethnic Studies