Sep 4, 2014

Women faculty in US Stat/Biostat Departments

Marcia Gumpertz and Jacqueline Hughes-Oliver investigated the status of female faculty members in Statistics and Biostatistics departments across the US. Marcia reports on their findings:

In Fall 2013 we conducted a small survey to learn about the demographic distributions of faculty in US departments of Statistics and Biostatistics. Twenty-nine of the 58 departments polled responded, including eight departments of Biostatistics and 21 departments of Statistics. In addition to understanding the gender and racial/ethnic breakdown of the faculty, we were particularly interested in the relationship between faculty gender balance and the gender of the department leadership.

In the 29 responding departments (see below), women comprised just 26% of tenured and tenure track faculty (Table 1 below), 24% in Statistics Departments and 32% in Biostatistics Departments.
43_06 gumpertz table1
In about two thirds of departments (69%) women made up fewer than 30% of faculty and in a fifth of departments (21%) women made up fewer than 15% of the faculty. The levels 30% and 15% are commonly thought to be levels at which representation of a group reaches a critical mass that changes the department climate (Etzkowitz et al. 2002; Nelson and Brammer 2010).

Women were more highly represented in non-tenure track positions than would be expected based on doctorates awarded. They made up 44% of non-tenure track faculty; whereas women earned 38% of PhDs awarded in these 29 departments in 2012–13, which is similar to the proportion of PhDs awarded to women (37%) in Statistics across the US in 2012 (NSF 2013). Women comprised a slightly lower fraction, 34%, of tenure track assistant professors. The proportion female in tenure line positions decreased at every rank, to 30% of associate professors and only 20% of full professors.

Asian and International students accounted for 60% of the doctorates awarded in Statistics and Biostatistics from these 29 departments, but only 36% of the faculty. At the tenure track assistant professor level, however, this group accounted for 54% of the faculty. White US citizens and permanent residents made up a substantially larger fraction of the tenure track assistant professors than the doctorates awarded (38% compared to 25%), while other groups (e.g., black, Hispanic, American Indian) were underrepresented at the assistant professor level compared to the proportion of doctorates awarded (8% vs 14%).

We found that departments with female department chairs had significantly higher numbers of female tenure track assistant professors (logistic regression, p-value=.03) and tenure line faculty more generally (p-value=.003) than departments led by men. The ratio of female-to-male tenured and tenure-track faculty was almost twice as high in departments with female chairs than otherwise. The proportion of female tenure track assistant professors also increased with the number of female full professors in the department (p-value =.03).

Department heads’ views about the relationship between leadership and female representation among the faculty ranged widely. Eighteen department chairs provided responses to the survey’s invitation to comment on “your view of the effect of department leadership on the gender composition of your department”. All indicated a desire to increase female representation, but not all were convinced that department leadership makes a difference. One stated flatly that:

“There is no effect of department leadership on gender composition of our department.” One attributed change to critical mass, but not to department leadership: “Our department had one tenured/tenure-track female from 1994–2006 [currently three]. Critical mass for females seemed to be very important. The single female was not able to convince the faculty to hire more females. When a second female came (in a spousal accommodation), that completely changed the climate and we were able to increase our numbers. We’ve had three or four female faculty since 2007. This change was not due to department leadership. There has never been much leadership about diversity from the department chair or by the college administration.”

About a third of the respondents, however, described actions that department leaders had taken that made a marked difference. We close by quoting one department chair who provided a blueprint for departments wishing to increase the diversity among their faculty:

“Department leadership has the power to move the needle a great deal on gender composition—through effects such as setting a cultural tone, creating recruitment packages that attend to flexibility needs, energetic outreach and inclusion of women in the recruitment process, and attentiveness to subtle and subconscious biases in the assessment process. However there are pipeline issues that are beyond department leadership to address fully whereby applications to tenure track positions in leading universities seem to not reflect the gender composition of those emerging with doctoral degrees in our fields, and the profession as a whole must address in the mentorship of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.”

This article is adapted from the essay “The status of women faculty in departments of Statistics and Biostatistics in the United States” (Gumpertz and Hughes-Oliver 2014).

The Departments

The 21 Statistics and 8 Biostatistics departments which responded were: Boston University Biostatistics, Colorado State University Statistics, Columbia University Statistics, Emory University Biostatistics and Bioinformatics, Florida State University Statistics, George Mason University Statistics, George Washington University Statistics, Johns Hopkins University Biostatistics, Kansas State University Statistics, Michigan State University Statistics and Probability, North Carolina State University Statistics, Oregon State University Statistics, Penn State University Statistics, Purdue University Statistics, Rice University Statistics, Stanford University Statistics, University of California at Berkeley Statistics, UCLA Statistics, University of Connecticut Statistics, University of Florida Statistics, University of Georgia Statistics, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign Statistics, University of Iowa Statistics and Actuarial Science, University of Minnesota Biostatistics, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Biostatistics, University of Pittsburgh Biostatistics, University of Pittsburgh Statistics, University of Washington Biostatistics, University of Wisconsin Biostatistics and Medical Informatics.


  • Etzkowitz, H., Kemelgor, C., Neuschatz, M., Uzzi, B., and J. Alonzo. 1994. “The Paradox of Critical Mass for Women in Science.” Science, New Series. 266(5182):51-54.
  • Gumpertz, M. and J.M. Hughes-Oliver. 2014. “The status of women faculty in departments of Statistics and Biostatistics in the United States,” In Advancing Women in Science, Ed by Pearson, W., Frehill, L.M., and C.L. McNeely. Springer, N.Y. In Press.
  • National Science Foundation (NSF). 2013. “Doctorate Recipients for U.S. Universities: 2012 Data Tables” Survey of Earned Doctorates
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  • Nelson, Donna J. and Christopher N. Brammer. 2010. A National Analysis of Minorities in Science and Engineering Faculties at Research Universities, 2nd Ed. Jan 4, 2010. [ ]

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