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AWG is Committed to Gender Equity in the Geosciences

Data from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the American Geological Institute (AGI) indicate that women remain under-represented at all levels in academia. There is still little data on the status of geoscience women in industry or government. We do know that AGI data indicate there is a greater proportion of women working at research institutes than in academia (16% vs. 13%), and U.S. Bureau of Labor data indicate women hired in the last 5 years are being paid as well as or even better than their male peers.

Status of Women in Academia, the Source of Future Women Geoscientists

Women now comprise 35 to 40% of undergraduate, Bachelor's degree recipients over the last 5 years:

(data from NSF's NSB )

These data from NSF indicate that while the proportion of women receiving a Bachelor's degree in Earth, Atmospheric and Ocean Sciences has been rising over the last 10 years, we are still under-recruiting women into the geosciences.

The proportion of women who receive a Master's degree is nearly the same as that receiving a Bachelor's. This indicates we are doing a good job of recruiting young women from the pool of geo-majors to a Master's program.

(data from NSF's NSB )

However, the proportion of women drops dramatically from the Master's to the Doctorate degree. This drop is diminishing, but is still cause for concern. There is no data on whether women are opting to not begin a doctorate program or whether a disproportionate number of women drop out of doctoral programs. Preliminary data from Mary Wyer for North Carolina State University indicates identical completion rates for males and females, so the problem may be that women are not beginning doctorate programs.

(data from NSF's NSB)
Climbing up the Ranks
Women comprise around 26% of Assistant Professor positions in the geosciences (in '04-05), a number that should reflect hires of recent PhD's, but is well below the proportion of women receiving the PhD (38% in '03). This indicates that women are NOT "getting all of the jobs" in academia, contrary to popular belief. Data for academic positions is from the American Geological Institute's Directory of Geoscience Departments, 04-05 (43rd) edition; data for degrees received is from NSF.

The proportion of women on faculty declines from Bachelor's-granting institutions (18%) to Master's-granting institutions (17%) to PhD-granting institutions (13%). The proportion of women on faculty declines with increasing rank, from around 26% Assistant Professors to 8% Full Professors.

There are not enough women in geoscience academia to accurately determine whether promotion rates are the same for men and women. There is no statistically significant difference in tenure and promotion rates between men and women in the geosciences.

Retention/tenure rates are about 75% for either gender. Losing 25% of new hires seems high to us. Here's AAUP's guide to good tenure evaluation procedures (.pdf).

Based on increases in hiring rates from the last 15 years, we project that women will not achieve parity in geoscience academic positions for another 40 years.

Data from AIP (American Institute of Physics) indicate the numbers of geoscientists from under-represented groups such as African-Americans, Hispanic Americans and Native Americans are the lowest for any endeavor of science, math, engineering or technology. Only 107 African-Americans have received the PhD in geoscience since 1973. About 30 are women. Around 300 Latino Americans have received a geoscience PhD since 1973.

(the above data are from Holmes, M.A., O'Connell, S.F., Frey, C.D., and Ongley, L.K., 2002, Geoscience gender equity in academia: We are still waiting (abs.): Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, v. 34, no. 6, 205-12, p. 469 and the workshop report)

Strategies to Stop the Leaky Pipeline

Strategies to increase the number of women in academia, to serve as role models as well as to provide a diverse approach to the study of geoscience, will vary depending on where the loss of women in the pipeline occurs.

Leaks occur at these strategic junctures:
  • women are under-recruited into geoscience as majors working toward a Bachelor's degree
  • before the PhD: women are either not beginning a doctoral program or are dropping out of them
  • women are not being hired into Assistant Professor (tenure-track) positions at the same rates at which we receive the PhD

    Some strategies to achieve gender equity at specific leaks:

  • To increase recruitment into the geosciences:
    • outreach at K-12 levels.

Many students do not have any geoscience course in high school. Taking kids into the field is the best way to "hook" them. See the AWG Education and Outreach pages for specific activities you can do with girls at different educational levels. The AWG Foundation supports such activities, so apply to them for financial aid.

Read more on "STARTING EARLY: How To Fill The Pipeline With Women" from Chemical and Engineering News.

    • better teaching of 100-level courses

These courses, from Physical Geology to Oceanography, are the main source of geoscience majors. Results of focus groups conducted with geoscientists in 2001 indicate that nearly 40% of geoscientists cite "stumbling into a 100-level class" as the principle means of being attracted into the field (workshop report). Part of the reason for this is lack of exposure to the field in high school, and the perception that Earth Science is the "dummy" science, the non college-track science in high school. Our best, most dynamic and knowledgeable teachers should be in our 100-level courses to attract the next generation of geoscientists.

Nearly 2/3 of AWG members cite an intro course or teacher as their principal influence in becoming a geoscientist. Research (Sadker and Sadker and AAUW) has demonstrated that many things we do in classes turn female students away. These include: calling on males more than females; ignoring females' raised hands; giving more time, attention and credence to male students' questions and comments than to females, and interrupting (and allowing other students to interrupt) female students who do speak up in class. Even prefacing a statement by saying "This is easy" tends to put off female students, who tend to think "I won't be able to do it".

For more information, see Achieving Gender Equity in Science Classrooms, a guide for faculty, compiled by Women Science Students, Faculty and Staff at colleges of The New England Consortium for Undergraduate Science Education.

See also Seymour and Hewitt, who study why students (male and female) who initially major in a science leave the sciences in college. One of the big dis-attractors for any student initially interested in science is a cold, unreceptive "I'm too busy to talk to you" atmosphere in a science department.

This is a particularly critical issue for recruiting new geoscientists from currently under-represented groups. Geosciences are not taught at most Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Note: In this figure, “minority” includes Black, American Indian or Alaskan Native, and Hispanic, but does not include Asian or Pacific Islander, Unknown and Other, White Non-Hispanic, or Temporary Resident. Compiled from - webCASPAR database. Data from the Higher Education General Information Survey (HEGIS) and NCES/IPEDS.?

  • To increase the number of women receiving the doctorate degree
    • better advising at undergraduate and Master's level

    Many female students have commented that faculty do not encourage them to enter a doctorate program; others, that they experience a chilly climate. Contributors to the chill include experiences such as,

    • "I told my advisor an idea; s/he poo-pooed it, then later, another student was using the idea for a thesis";
    • "I was nearly finished when my advisor said I'd need more data, this meant another field season and putting off my degree by one year",
    • "My advisor takes male students to the field/conferences but never takes females".
    • "My advisor told some other students that it's a waste of time for a woman to get a graduate degree"
    • "My [female] advisor told me that I couldn't be an academic and have children"

    This last statement is patently false, as research by Elga Wassermann found that 2/3 of the women in the National Academy of Sciences have from 1 to 5 kids. Other researchers estimate that the proportion of U.S. women scientists with child(ren) is about the same as for the general U.S. population: around 80%.

    • more role models

    Female students look around to see if anybody on the faculty looks like them and has a lifestyle they want. One woman per faculty cannot provide the variety that students are looking for.

    • daycare

About one in ten graduate students (including both genders) at one midwestern University have one or more children under the age of 6. There is little data on this, but fertility for women peaks during graduate school years. For more on this, see article by Carol de Wet (chair at Franklin & Marshall), Gail Ashley (Professor at Rutgers, former President of GSA and SEPM), and Daniel Kegel(Ob/Gyn) in GSA Today.

  • To increase the number of women hired into tenure-track positions
    • Educate search committees
      • Search committees must be pro-active in recruiting women into their applicant pool

        One way to do this is to find doctoral students at national meetings whose research fits the search criteria and invite them to your institution for a visit.

      • What criteria will the search committee use when the decision comes down to two equally-qualified persons?

        Too many times we've heard "Think of who you will feel comfortable with talking to at the picnic". This attitude promotes hiring of more people like the majority. Try considering "Do we have sufficient role models for all parts of our undergraduate population?"

      • Great info from the University of Michigan, with a "recruitment handbook" and powerpoint presentations on the status of women in science and engineering.

    • The Dual-Body Opportunity
      • Departments need to be flexible when planning future hires. 60% of women with a PhD are married to another PhD, while only 20% of men with a PhD are married to another PhD.

      There are many ways to approach the dual-body opportunity. Here is a website with sample contracts in use at various universities today. And here is another website with sample contracts.

      Dual Career policies at Virginia Tech

      Dual Career policies at U-Arizona

      Recommendations for Dual Career partners at U-Washington by their ADVANCE program

      Work/Family issues by AAUP.

      More on Women in the Academy by AAUP.

    • Flexible Appointments
      • stop-the-tenure clock: these contracts allow faculty 1 to 3 semesters off for family responsibilities. This time is then added on to the tenure clock. Read more in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
      • assignment shift: faculty are given full research contracts for 1 to 3 semesters for family responsibilities. There is no delay in going up for tenure.

      AAUP's statement in support of flexible appointments. Unfortunately, AAUP (American Association of University Professors) does not support part-time, tenure-track appointments at this time.

    • daycare
      • you can increase your applicant pool if your institution offers affordable daycare. For more on the overlap of the tenure clock with the biological clock, see article by Carol de Wet (chair at Franklin & Marshall), Gail Ashley (Professor at Rutgers, former President of GSA and SEPM), and Daniel Kegel(Ob/Gyn) in GSA Today.

more on "Supporting Early Career Faculty" by the American Association for Higher Education.

Links to Other Women's Organizations and Relevant Websites


National Academy of Sciences Commission on Women in Science and Engineering (CWSE)

NSF's report on Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering, 2002

NSF's detailed statistical data on all persons in Science and Engineering

    Studies on the Status of Women and/or on Achieving Gender Equity

Gender Equity for Mathematics and Science, A Conference of the Woodrow Wilson Woodrow Wilson Leadership Program for Teachers

International Conference of Women Engineers and Scientists, 2000

MIT's study on the status of women in their Science Faculty

    Conduct Your Own Study

NSF's ADVANCE program for achieving gender equity in STEM

    Organizations on Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)

American Association of University Women

Association of College and Research Libraries: Women and Gender Studies: Science and Technology website

Association for Women in Science (AWIS)

Association of Women Soil Scientists

Brown University's Women in Science studies

European Commission on Women in Science

Gender, Science and Technology Gateway

Georgia Tech's Center for the Study of Women, Science and Technology

The Hypatia Insitute (Feminist Physicists)

MentorNet: mentoring network for diversity in engineering and science

Women in Biology

Women Chemists Committee of the American Chemical Society

Women Chemists' articles in Chemical and Engineering News

Women in Mathematics (WIM)

Women in Mining (WIM)

Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering

Women in Oceanography

Women in Technology International (WITI)

Third World Organization for Women in Science

Women into Science and Technology

Women-related websites in science and technology

Some References

more references on Women in Science and Engineering, with links to online articles

    • AAUW, 1994. Shortchanging girls, shortchanging America.
    • Cavazos, Anne, 1998. Eos, July/August issue.
    • Cole, J.R., & Zuckerman, H. (1991). Marriage, motherhood annd research performance in science. In H. Zuckerman, J. Cole, and J. Bruer (eds.), The outer circle: Women in the Scientific community. (239-258). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
    • Commision on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering and Technology Development. 2000. Land of Plenty: Diversity as America's Competitive Edge in Science, Engineering and Technology.
    • Crawford, ML, 1977, Women in academia: Students and Professors, Geology, August issue, 502-503.
    • Crawford, ML, et al, 1987, Women in academia: Students and Professors revisited, Geology, 15, 773-774.
    • de Wet, A.P., and de Wet, C.B., 1994, Gender in geoscience academia: What's the real picture? (abs.): Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs,
      v. 26, no. 7, p. A-485.
    • de Wet, C.B., and de Wet, A.P., 1995, Making it work together: Spouses on the tenure-track: Geotimes, v. 40, no. 4, p. 17-19.
    • Etzkowitz, H., Kemelgor, C., and Uzzi, B., 2000. Athena Unbound: The Advancement of Women in Science and Technology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
    • Etzkowitz, H., Kemelgor, C., Neuschatz, M., and Uzzi, B., 1994. In Pearson ,W. Jr., and Fechter, I., eds., Who Will Do Science? Educating the Next Generation, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
    • Etzkowitz, H., Kemelgor, C., Neuschatz, M., and Uzzi, B. 1992. Athena Unbound: Barriers to Women in Academic Science and Engineering. Science and Public Policy June issue.
    • Famous Women Scientists from the National Academy of Sciences press
    • Felder et al., 1995, A Longitudinal Study of Engineering Student Performance and Retention III. Gender Differences in Student Performance and Attitudes, Journal of Engineering Education, April 1995, 151-163
    • Finkel, S.K., & Olswang, S. (1991). Child rearing as a career impediment to women assistant professors. Review of Higher Education, 19(2) 123-39.
    • Grant, Andrea, 1995. Women in Science: An Exploration of Barriers. copyright by Andrea Grant, 1995. published on the web.
    • Grant, L. Kennelly, I., & Ward, K.B. (2000). Revisiting the gender, marriage, and parenthood puzzle in scientific careers.Women's Studies Quarterly, 28, 62-85.
    • Hensel, N. (1991). Realizing gender equality in higher education: The need to intergrate women/family issues. ASHE:ERIC Higher Education Report No. 2. Washington DC: George Washington University.
    • some History on Science and Gender
    • Macfarlane, A., and Luzzadder-Beach, S., 1998, Achieving equity between women and men in the geosciences: Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 110, p. 1590-1614.
    • National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics, Science and Engineering Degrees, by Race/Ethnicity of Recipients: 1992-2001, NSF 04-318, Project Officers, Susan T. Hill and Jean M. Johnson (Arlington, VA 2004).
    • Ongley L.K., Bromley M.W. and Osborne K., 1998. Women geoscientists in Academe 1996-1997, GSA Today vol. 8 no. 11, pp 12-14, November 1998.
    • Pearson, Willie, Jr., and Fechter, Irwin (eds.). Who Will Do Science? Educating the Next Generation, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.
    • Sadker, M., and Sadker, D., 1995. Failing at Fairness: How Our Schools Cheat Girls.
    • Sadker: Myra Sadker Advocates for Gender Equity esp in K-12 classrooms.
    • Sand and Bunning, 1985, Ten years of progress…, Journal of Geological Education, 33, 212-215.
    • Seymour, E., and N.M. Hewitt, 1997. Talking About Leaving: Why undergraduates leave the sciences USA: Westview Press.
    • Shauman, K.A. & Xie, Yu. (1996). Geographic mobility of scientists: Sex differences and family constraints. Demography, 33. 455-468.
    • Wassermann, Elga: The Door in the Dream. Conversations with Eminent Women in Science. Joseph Henry Press 2000.
    • Wolfe C.J., 1998. Number of women faculty in the geosciences increasing, but slowly, EOS vol. 80 no. 17, pp 133-136, March 23, 1999.
    • Women’s Bureau, 1949, The Outlook for Women in Science, Bulletin of the Women’s Bureau no. 223-1, Gov’t L14.3:223.

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