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Study Measures Faculty Job Satisfaction by Gender and Field

Jul 13, 2010

The latest data set released by Harvard's Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) rates pre-tenure faculty job satisfaction by academic discipline and gender. Professors in the physical sciences and humanities ranked the highest among their peers in most areas measured by the study, and, overall, women reported lower job satisfaction than men.

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Harvard COACHE

Managed by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) is a project that collects peer data in order to monitor - and improve - job satisfaction for academic faculty. COACHE's primary source of data is the Tenure-Track Faculty Satisfaction Survey, which has reached over 10,000 pre-tenure faculty to date across the country. The survey evaluates faculty experience in ten areas determined to be key for early-career success:

  • Tenure practices
  • Clarity of institutional expectations for tenure
  • Reasonableness of institution expectations for tenure
  • Nature of work overall
  • Nature of work - teaching
  • Nature of work - research
  • Work and home balance
  • Climate, culture and collegiality
  • Compensation and benefits
  • Global satisfaction

For the purposes of analysis, those areas are lumped into five themes: Tenure, Nature of the Work, Policies and Practices, Climate, Culture and Collegiality and Global Satisfaction.

Male Professors

Male Faculty Report Higher Levels of Satisfaction Than Their Female Peers

COACHE recently released the first analysis of their research broken down by gender and academic discipline. The study included data from 9,512 professors at 63 public and private universities across the U.S. Mean scores were determined for responses to 83 different survey dimensions, evaluating professors' institutions, academic departments and work/life experience in the five themed areas listed above.

Evaluating the data as a whole, the analysis revealed a startling gender difference. In almost every academic discipline, men rated their satisfaction levels significantly higher than women. Faculty in ECMS and 'other' disciplines were roughly evenly split among genders, but men consistently ranked most - or, in many cases, all - survey dimensions higher than women in all other fields.

This isn't the first survey to note lingering gender imbalances in academia. A previous study by COACHE found that women faculty struggle more than their male peers to balance parenting and work. And a 2009 study by the National Research Council of the Academy of the Sciences reported that women scientists are continuing to 'leak' out of the academic pipeline due to poor family-related policies.

Cathy Trower, research director of COACHE, notes that their findings contradict the popular idea that all that's needed for gender equality in academia is a 'critical mass' of women. Gender imbalances persist even in fields such as the social sciences, which typically have higher rates of female faculty. As Trower points out, the data suggests that having more women in the field isn't 'necessarily enough' - proactive policy changes in areas such as family leave and academic resources still need to happen.

Physical Sciences Faculty

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Physical Science Faculty Most Satisfied Overall

Faculty in the physical sciences rated their satisfaction levels higher for more survey dimensions than any other field, with humanities coming in second. Although it's beyond the scope of the study to suggest why these patterns have emerged, it might benefit university administrators and departmental chairs to examine the differences between fields and see where they can learn from the most successful practices.

Overall Job Satisfaction by Academic Area

  1. Physical sciences
  2. Humanities
  3. Agriculture, natural resources and environmental sciences (ANE)
  4. Business
  5. Social sciences
  6. Medical schools and health professions
  7. Biology
  8. Engineering, computer science, math and statistics (ECMS)
  9. Education
  10. Other professions (including architecture, the law, journalism and library science)
  11. Visual and performing arts
  12. Health and human ecology

Trower and COACHE director Kiernan Mathews both noted that different expectations for tenure and other measures of success may be to blame for the gap between the sciences and the arts. Evaluations tend to rely on clear and specific goals in the sciences, whereas, as Mathews points out, 'it is harder to define excellence in art.' Faculty members in the physical sciences did rate their satisfaction with clarity in the tenure process very high, whereas visual and performing arts ranked in the bottom three of all 12 disciplines for tenure clarity.

Although many researchers have pointed to poor family leave policies to explain the gender imbalance in job satisfaction, some disciplines were actually rated highly for work/life balance. Humanities faculty reported a high level of support from their colleagues for both having and raising children on the tenure track, although they rated their institutions much lower in this area. Trower points out that this may be due to a more flexible schedule - humanities faculty aren't expected to spend most of their time in a lab like scientists are. In fact, physical sciences faculty rated their field among the bottom three in the respectfulness of colleagues regarding efforts to balance work and home.

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