CHARGE program makes efforts to reduce gender disparity in academic departments

Women make up less than 25 percent of faculty in several STEM departments in the College at U.Va.


Based on a name and image analysis of department faculty websites in the College, four out of 29 faculty in the Department of Mathematics are female, 14 of 50 in the Department of Biology are female, nine out of 40 in the Department of Environmental Sciences are female and five of 41 in the Department of Physics are female. 

Graphic by Aisha Singh

At the University, female professors comprise less than a fourth of total faculty members in various science, technology, engineering and mathematics departments in the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. University professors are attempting to address gender equality in various STEM fields through ongoing diversity efforts, including the CHARGE initiative.

Based on a name and image analysis of department faculty websites in the College, four out of 29 faculty in the Department of Mathematics are female, 14 of 50 in the Department of Biology are female, nine out of 40 in the Department of Environmental Sciences are female and five of 41 in the Department of Physics are female. 

Other Virginia public universities show similar gender ratios for faculty in STEM fields. For example, the 12.5 percent of female faculty in the University’s Department of Physics is comparable to the six female of 39 total faculty members of the same field at Virginia Tech and the six of 22 at the Virginia Commonwealth University.

According to U.S. News & World Report, between all departments at the University, the full-time faculty gender distribution is 61.1 percent male and 38.9 percent female while the part-time faculty gender distribution is 41.9 percent male compared to 58.1 female for the 2017 academic year.

Gender disparities emerge at the undergraduate level through science and engineering coursework. In higher education, men earn the majority of bachelor’s degrees awarded in engineering, computer science and physics. Moreover, in the STEM workforce, women remain underrepresented — women make up 47 percent of the overall workforce and 28 percent of the science and engineering workforce

According to Asst. Mathematics Prof. Sara Maloni, the disparity between female and male faculty in STEM departments at the University is evident. In response to this trend in the mathematics community, Maloni said there is a need for development of organizations like the Association for Women in Mathematics and open discussion that begins at the elementary school level and proceeds into graduate school and beyond. 

Maloni founded the University chapter of the AWM to promote female student involvement through immersive activities across STEM fields. AWM sponsors mentorship programs that connect faculty, graduate students and undergraduates and organizes conferences that provide information on graduate school and other advanced education programs.

In order to create change that will generate a lasting impact on societally-imposed biases, Maloni said it was key to make the issue of representation in STEM an ongoing conversation. According to Maloni, issues caused by implicit biases towards minorities may be ameliorated through discussion that establishes respect and mutual consideration. 

While continuous conversation and diverse representation may play a role in changing the prejudices that emerge in academic settings, the University has also created a program called CHARGE, with funding from the National Science Foundation, to increase gender representation in traditional STEM fields as well as biological and behavioral sciences. 

Specifically, the NSF has provided a total of about $3.2 million to the University’s branch of the ADVANCE program, called CHARGE, from Oct. 1, 2012 to the estimated date of Sept. 30, 2019 for the purpose of organizing exhibits, speaker series and conducting surveys on bias in the workplace.

Engineering School Executive Dean Pamela Norris helped bring CHARGE to fruition and worked as a principal investigator for the program alongside Assoc. Prof. of Anthropology Gertrude Fraser, Assoc. Prof. of Public Policy Sophie Trawalter and the late Science, Technology and Society Prof. Joanne Cohoon.

Norris said in an email that the funding by NSF was made possible in part due to the NSF ADVANCE program. The ADVANCE program was created to increase and encourage female representation in STEM fields through collaboration among leaders and faculty members of their respective areas of study across various institutions. 

Additionally, CHARGE was also responsible for establishing the Directors of Diversity and Inclusion program to support greater diversity in departments across the University. Maloni is currently the Director of Diversity and Inclusion for Women and Diversity in Mathematics, Statistics and Physics.

Sociology Prof. Rae Blumberg said CHARGE and other ongoing projects at the University have made efforts to lessen the gender disparity in the sciences.

“When you have the kind of solidarity that the women have found, many of them for the first time in shall we say the ‘problem departments,’ with a program like CHARGE, I think it is good all around,” Blumberg said. “It’s good for the University, and I think that the NSF people were impressed enough … that I think they’re now funding such programs at other universities.” 

The percentage of female faculty in STEM fields at the University rose from 18.9 percent in the 2009 to 2012 period to 21.3 percent in the 2016 to 2017 period. While CHARGE cannot be pinpointed as the cause of the fluctuation in female faculty at U.Va., these increases do indicate a gradual shift. Overall, according to NSF, the number of females employed in STEM fields has risen from 56,560 in 2006 to 74,884 in 2015. Comparatively, the number of males employed in STEM fields has increased from 162,641 in 2006 to 184,806 in 2017.

Mathematics Prof. Paul Bourdon said in an email to The Cavalier Daily that there are not enough female faculty involved in STEM fields, though there have been changes in addition to the CHARGE program that have been implemented to address this issue.

“One thing, which is already being implemented across STEM departments on grounds, is transforming introductory STEM courses so that they employ active- and cooperative-learning strategies,” Bourdon said. “Members of groups underrepresented in STEM should have opportunities to engage in research projects during their undergraduate years … We need to be drawing talent from as large a pool as possible.”

According to Maloni, a supportive environment also encourages women to pursue degrees and careers in STEM fields. In particular, Maloni said the University hosts regular meetings that feature female speakers along with other events to bring women in STEM together and create a community.

“We do also have some social activities where students can connect and create these communities, and we have a job fair where you can see different mathematicians and different paths that you can take after school, some research opportunities,” Maloni said. “We have students that did some work, and they explain what they did, and ... that’s really nice to really be seen as a mathematician, and be valued for the work they did.” 

Blumberg said she believes current projects to promote gender equality in academic departments to be effective. 

“I think that what we have now works, and certainly has created a huge boost in morale among the women in all of the departments that fall under this big umbrella,” Blumberg said.

In the 2015-16 academic year, the total female faculty count in STEM fields in the College was 22 percent, as was the proportion for 2014-15. Between these two years, the Department of Physics experienced a 3 percent increase in female faculty, from 9 to 12 percent. The majority of STEM departments did not experience a change in the number of female faculty.

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