Study Examines Obstacles Women Face in Climbing the Faculty Academic Ladder

In a new report for the Brookings Institution, Bridget Turner Kelly, an associate professor in the College of Education at the University of Maryland, finds that women are making slow progress in closing the gender gap in the highest levels of college and university faculty. The study explores the challenges women make as they try to move up the academic ladder.

The study notes previous research that found that women made up 31 percent of full-time faculty in higher education when Dr. Kelly began her research in 2003. That figure had remained virtually stagnant during a 75-year period when the number of women earning college degrees had tripled. At that time, women were only 27 percent of tenured, full-time faculty at four-year institutions and the numbers were even lower at large doctoral-granting research universities. Since the study began the percentage of women faculty has increased to 45 percent. But the percentage of women as tenured full professors is actually lower than it was when Dr. Kelly’s research began in 2003.

Dr. Kelly states that “at best, the process of advancing through tenure remains stagnant for women professors, at worst, some could say women ascending the professor ladder is now harder than ever.”

Dr. Kelly’s research showed that women faculty members still experienced sexism and other obstacles in their academic careers. They also found that women faculty members generally enjoyed their life in academia and strived to make meaningful contributions in teaching and scholarship. Dr. Kelly found that women “who thrived sought out making meaningful connections with co-researchers, students, faculty, and administrators. Often, they pursued these supportive relationships in spite of discouraging messages they received from department chairs and deans who emphasized independent scholarship.”

Dr. Kelly concludes that “if students are to reap the benefits of the curricular and scholarly contributions only women faculty can make, we need to put our brains and hearts to work on making the experience of all women full-time faculty in U.S. higher education one without gender inequities.”

Dr. Kelly joined the faculty at the University of Maryland in 2018 after teaching for nine years at Loyola University in Chicago. A graduate of the University of Tennessee, Dr. Kelly earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in the social foundations of education from the University of Maryland.

Filed Under: FacultyGender GapResearch/Study


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