University uses national grant to employ more women

Filip Panovski/Contributing Writer

Near the start of the 2011 Fall semester, FIU was awarded the National Science Foundation ADVANCE grant, a $573,000 grant aimed at making institutional changes within the framework of FIU and its hiring process.

The grant is being overseen by the School of Integrated Science and Humanity and four principal investigators, spearheaded by Dr. Suzanna Rose, Director of SISH. The grant is aimed at reducing the unconscious bias present in the hiring process at FIU and nationwide in order to recruit and retain more female faculty in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields.

The grant will be utilized as planned through the ACE partnership which pertains to the Awareness of, Commitment to and Empowerment of Women Scientists at the university.

In 2010, a climate survey was conducted at FIU to establish an accurate picture of the activities, interests and priorities of faculty which showed that while both men and women were dissatisfied with salaries, women are underrepresented and have less influence than their male counterparts in most departments.

While there are many variables that affect the number of women in STEM fields, Rose noted that “There’s 20 to 30 years of research that shows that there is a difference in the salaries women get [in comparison with men].”

In addition, according to a recent study from 2010, four to 30 percent of female PhDs in various STEM fields are not considered for tenure track positions.

“FIU is definitely missing some good candidates,” Rose said.

Gender issues are not tied to any specific institution or country.  A study in Sweden showed that women had to be at least 2.5 times more productive as men to be seen as similarly competent, which in turn meant that men were twice as successful with no additional qualifications.

Rose noted past research where identical resumes were given as pertaining to individuals of different gender: unsurprisingly to some, the resume with a man’s name received higher evaluations.

To facilitate institutional changes to combat this, departments are being encouraged to use innovative and objective grading schemes during the hiring process to weed out subjective bias as part of the Commitment phase.

Other initiatives include workshops and theater skits, the latter being performed by the nationally acclaimed Center for Research on Learning and Teaching theatre group from the University of Michigan, which is working closely with the University through the grant’s duration.

The performances have garnered extremely positive feedback from faculty and students alike, portraying issues which are often difficult to bring up in conversation.

Aside from these and similar issues, mentorship programs are also being introduced to various departments.

“Mentoring has been spotty across FIU,” said Rose, who developed the mentoring program for College of Arts and Sciences which currently sports 35 mentor-mentee pairs, the largest program at FIU currently.

“We haven’t assessed the first year, but the reports and workshop evaluations have been good so far.”

According to Rose, although FIU lacks a central office which would oversee these mentorship programs, there are ongoing plans to formalize the process and improve faculty mentorship programs and eventually, graduate student programs.

Provided these changes go through well and FIU improves its faculty diversity and hiring process, the university would be eligible for further funding.

“NSF gives you a starter grant, and if you do well with it, and you can show that you’ve had an impact, then you’re very competitive for the larger grant,” said Rose, referring to the $1-$3 million grant for which FIU may be eligible to apply in around a year.

According to Rose, the money for that grant would be used for university-wide changes which would potentially turn FIU into a model for other institutions’ hiring processes.

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