Leaks in the pipeline

Family issues can cause women to abandon academia at every rung of the career ladder. Policy- makers have addressed some ways to get more women on to the lower rungs of the ladder. But solutions at the higher steps — tenure and beyond — are proving a little more difficult.

In the United States, the past 30 years have seen a dramatic rise in the number of women gaining PhDs in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, according to the National Science Foundation (NSF). In the geosciences, the proportion of PhD degrees awarded to women has increased from none in 1966 to 46% in 2003. But, according to a database held by the American Geological Institute, there are ‘leaks’ in the geosciences pipeline for academics — particularly in the hiring for assistant professor positions. In the field, 42% of BS/BA degree recipients, 45% of MS recipients and 39% of PhD recipients are women. But only 26% of assistant professors, 14% of tenured associate professors and 8% of full professors are women.

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