Increasing Women in STEM in Academia

I read this really great post “Women are Not the Problem” from the Association of Women in Science (AWIS) blog yesterday about how to increase the representation of women in academic positions in STEM fields http://awisblog.wordpress.com/

The two approaches discussed are:

1) Coaching women individually to navigate the academic system.

2) Transforming the academic system to change the system to be more inclusive to women and minorities.

Most efforts are focused on option 1 with coaching individual women, where as the more significant impact on increasing women in academic careers would be made by addressing option 2.  More efforts need to be made to transform the academic system to be inclusive and fair to women and under-represented minorities.

I thought this would be an interesting topic to explore as graduate students because we are trying to decide if we want to go the academic route or not.  What we see and experience in our graduate education gives a perspective of academic life.  We see our advisor’s schedule and work load. We sometimes experience the politics of departments.   What innovation or ideas could we offer as STEM women to improve the current academic system?

When I was getting my Master’s degree at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), I worked as a graduate assistant for an NSF ADVANCE funded program (http://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=5383). The goal of the ADVANCE program is to develop systemic approaches to increase the representation and advancement of women in academic STEM careers, thereby contributing to the development of a more diverse science and engineering workforce. At UIC one way their ADVANCE program worked to improve the climate was through developing and adopting more family friendly policies for academics.

As an engineer it makes sense to me that we need to fix the system.  The current system was established in a by-gone era and I agree it is time we modernized the policies and academic culture to include our generation of women.  How would you redefine the tenure track system? Do you see changes in the academic policies at your university?

Marcella

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