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The number of women in some academia disciplines like computer science remains low despite the continuous efforts to increase it. What is being done to make academic careers in computer science (and related fields) more appealing to women? Are there any studies on the ways of improving the working conditions for women in academia?

1 Answer 1

I imagine actual studies will be few and far between - they'd be difficult to conduct, and I suspect the reasons behind many of the outcomes would be near impossible to establish with a degree of certainty. For example, if a woman leaves academia because she got saddled with tons of committee work, student advising and other activities, and is denied tenure, was she just unproductive? Did she get saddled with those duties because she is a woman?

Beyond funding initiatives, which StrongBad discussed a bit, I think there are some very serious "quality of life" considerations that impact the retention of women in academia:

  • "Mommy Tracking" (A "mommy track" is when a woman is put on a particular career trajectory as a result of having, or planning to have children. While it may involve flexible work arrangements, it is often at the expense of her professional career and may involve limited advancement opportunities, being regarded as "less serious about research", etc.) While now notorious enough that it ought to be a thing of the past, penalizing female academics for having children - or the possibility that they might have children - forces women to make a Family vs. Career choice that most male academics never have to make. Faced with this dilemma, some female academics will choose family, resulting in a higher attrition rate among women. Worse, some promotion committees, etc., will effectively make the choice for them.This report goes over some of this.
  • For those female academics who do have children, consider providing things like breastfeeding rooms or daycare at major conferences.
  • Actively questioning our own implicit biases. If your field has a large number of women in it (like my own), the panels at conferences, the awardees, society officers, etc. should have a fairly large number of women in them. Even for fields with less women in them - if 10% of your field is female, but none of your invited speakers for a major conference are, that might indicate some implicit bias in how people construct panels, think about the luminaries in their field, etc. Looking at things like panel composition and asking "Do we have any women? If not, why not?" is a useful exercise. Note this is not a quota system. The answer may be that no women applied for an award this year. Or that everyone who published on this aspect of a subfield this year happened to be a man. But it also might not be. This kind of thing will impact both the careers of the women chosen, but also allow women who are junior in the field to see "people like them" as big names in the field, which has been shown to be important.
  • Stemming from the above, avoid tokenism. The female faculty you do have shouldn't have higher burdens of committee work, etc. because "We need a woman on the X committee and you're the only one" while their male colleagues are left free to do research.
  • Make academia unfriendly to sexist statements. Actually speak up when you hear them. Don't dismiss it as "Oh, X doesn't have any social skills, but they're a brilliant researcher..." when it's driving away other brilliant researchers who don't want to be treated as if they are sex objects (unwelcome flirting, comments on their appearance, etc), or have their accomplishments and contributions dismissed because of their gender.