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Dana Britton

Research Findings

Is there a chilly climate for women faculty?

March 4, 2018

Picture a professor.  Who comes to mind?  These are the pictures I found in a Google Search for public domain images of a “Professor.”  The first 22 above are a diverse group, at least in terms of their eyewear, neckwear, and hair (facial and otherwise).  They are real and fictional, live and animated.  And they are all white men.

This group of images captures an enduring cultural stereotype about who discovers and possesses scientific knowledge.  It also captures an aspect of reality.  Women are more likely to hold university faculty positions than ever before, yet they remain underrepresented in the highest prestige institutions, the highest paying disciplines and at the highest ranks.  As of the academic year 2013-2014, men were about three times as likely as women to be full professors at degree-granting postsecondary institutions.  As this image suggests, most of these men were white.  Of all full professors, 57% were white men, while men of all other racial and ethnic groups made up 13%.  White women were 25% of all full professors, women of all other racial/ethnic groups, 5%.

To explain gender disparities in the academy, many scholars argue that women faculty face a “chilly climate” in which subtle and overt discrimination accumulate to saturate the atmosphere of their workplaces.  The problem with the metaphor is that it often does not match women’s own understanding of their experiences.  For example, Laura Rhoton (2011) found that the women STEM faculty she interviewed rejected systemic accounts of discrimination, like the chilly climate, and minimized the importance of gender, seeing it as a distraction from their real work as scientists.

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