IF a research project among half a dozen northern Ohio universities is successful, more women will attain higher-education faculty positions in science, technology, engineering, and math. They are woefully underrepresented in all, a loss not only to the academic disciplines but also to young women who might be drawn to less-conventional study with female professors as role models.
The University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University are participating in the three-year effort, subsidized by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
The study aims to identify why so few women are in tenured and tenure-track positions in the sciences and engineering, and to put initiatives in place to improve their numbers.
One idea BGSU started considering, even before the federal grant, was giving faculty members a longer period to qualify for tenure if, for medical, maternity, or family reasons, they needed more time. This practical change might improve the number of women on science faculties.
Karen Bjorkman, chairman of UT's physics and astronomy department, says rectifying the gender imbalance in the sciences is critical because "in this day of competition around the world in technical areas and proficiency in science, we can't afford to throw away over half of our talent pool." She's one of three women among 22 faculty members in the department.
For years, Deanne Snavely was the only female chemistry professor at BGSU. She has been chairman of the department. But in 20 years, she says, no other female faculty member was hired. Today, there is just one female tenured or tenure-track faculty member in the chemistry department, and none in physics and astronomy.
The absence of female scholars in those fields is telling and unfortunate. But it's not something that women can't remedy.