Tenure Track Policy Increases Representation of Women in Senior Academic Positions, but Is Insufficient to Achieve Gender Balance

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Abstract

Underrepresentation of women in senior positions is a persistent problem in universities worldwide, and a wide range of strategies to combat this situation is currently being contemplated. One such strategy is the introduction of a tenure track system, in which decisions to promote scientific staff to higher ranks are guided by a set of explicit and transparent criteria, as opposed to earlier situations in which decisions were based on presumably more subjective impressions by superiors. We examined the effect of the introduction of a tenure track system at Wageningen University (The Netherlands) on male and female promotion rates. We found that chances on being promoted to higher levels were already fairly equal between men and women before the tenure track system was introduced, and improved–more for women than for men–after the introduction of the tenure track system. These results may partly be explained by affirmative actions, but also by the fact that legacy effects of historical discrimination have led to a more competitive female population of scientists. In spite of these outcomes, extrapolations of current promotion rates up to 2025 demonstrate that the equal or even higher female promotion rates do not lead to substantial improvement of the gender balance at higher levels (i.e., associate professor and higher). Since promotion rates are small compared to the total amount of staff, the current distribution of men and women will, especially at higher levels, exhibit a considerable degree of inertia—unless additional affirmative action is taken.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0163376
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume11
Issue number9
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2016

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