Keeping Senior Women at Your College

This nationwide study points to the role of the dean and department chair in supporting women at the higher ranks.
By Sylvia Hurtado and Linda DeAngelo

While women have made progress in many areas of higher education, institutions still need to focus attention on the advancement and retention of women at the highest academic ranks. According to data from the U.S. Department of Education’s 2005 Fall Staff Survey, women represent only 40.6 percent of full-time faculty and 25.1 percent of full professors. Many higher education institutions have developed initiatives to eliminate disparities in salary, create more family-friendly leave policies, and allow junior faculty to “stop the clock” of tenure in order to accommodate the birth or adoption of children. While these are important initiatives, it is important to understand faculty satisfaction and factors that may lead faculty to consider leaving for other institutions. Specific budgetary decisions may affect resources that are important for faculty satisfaction, especially in the area of teaching, and may affect women differently from men. How these decisions are implemented may, in turn, affect an institution’s retention of women faculty.

A new report, The American College Teacher, released in 2009 by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI), provides insights into areas of faculty work and satisfaction for men and women. Data for this report were collected during 2007 and 2008 by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program at the University of California, Los Angeles, which administers a triennial survey of faculty. These data include responses from 22,562 fulltime faculty members at 372 four-year colleges and universities nationwide; the responses are weighted to provide a normative profile of the American faculty population for the report. In this article, we delve further into the data to understand the relationship between women’s satisfaction with their work and their consideration of leaving their institutions, focusing on the findings for senior women.

Satisfaction with Faculty Work

The HERI 2007–08 faculty survey contained a variety of items that measured career satisfaction, including three measures of compensation (salary and health and retirement benefits), a measure of overall job satisfaction, and measures of satisfaction with various aspects of an academic career. Faculty members derive the most satisfaction from their freedom to determine the content of the courses they teach (92.5 percent) and from the autonomy and independence of their positions (85.0 percent). In addition, although three out of four faculty members (74.8 percent) have overall job satisfaction, only slightly more than half are satisfied with central aspects of their careers, including opportunity for scholarly pursuits (54.1 percent) and teaching loads (57.7 percent). In terms of compensation, the survey reveals that faculty are satisfied with their health (68.3 percent) and retirement (68.7 percent) benefits, but even as we moved into the current economic downturn, only 46.2 percent of faculty reported that they were satisfied with their salaries. Further, a little over half (54.6 percent) indicate that they are satisfied with their prospects for career advancement.

Perhaps more importantly, women are less satisfied than men in almost all of these areas. Nearly equal percentages of men and women are satisfied with their health benefits, but more men than women are satisfied with their salary and retirement benefits. The differences between male and female faculty satisfaction are especially acute at the rank of full professor and diverge to a lesser but still important degree at the rank of associate professor in certain areas (see table 1). For example, significantly fewer female than male full professors are satisfied with their opportunities for scholarly pursuits (50.6 percent of women compared with 66.0 percent of men) and their teaching loads (53.2 percent of women compared with 66.2 percent of men). How faculty allocate their time among the many demands of their work is likely one factor underlying these differences in satisfaction. Findings from the survey reveal that women spend considerably more time preparing for their courses and grading course assignments than men and spend less time on research and scholarly writing, with the greatest differences between men and women at the full professor rank. Results from the survey also show that women experience more stress associated with their teaching loads and research and publishing demands than men. Taken together, these results suggest that the most senior academic women are at a much higher risk of leaving their current institutions for others than are the most senior men.

Risk of Leaving

The elimination of salary disparities remains an important issue for institutions to pursue, because a strong relationship exists, among both men and women at all ranks, between salary and intention to leave an institution. Figure 1 shows this strong linear relationship within rank—the more satisfied one is with salary, the less likely one is to have considered leaving one’s institution in the last two years. However, the data reveal a surprising finding for female faculty members at the rank of associate and, especially, full professor: high levels of satisfaction with salary do not necessarily correlate with reduced consideration of leaving for these women as they do for men. Further, female full professors who are very satisfied with their salaries are 79.0 percent more likely and women associate professors are 23.2 percent more likely to have considered leaving their institution for another in the last two years than are men at the same ranks with the same level of salary satisfaction. The full American College Teacher report also reveals that this pattern is more likely to occur at public institutions than at private ones. These results suggest that, for senior women, satisfaction with salary may be a necessary but not in itself sufficient inducement to stay at an institution.

We also conducted multivariate analysis to determine the chief satisfaction determinants associated with considerations for leaving one’s present institution among women full professors. Chief among these factors are the relationships senior women have with campus administrators and the social relationships they have with other faculty members at their institutions. When senior women are satisfied with these relationships, they are significantly less likely to consider leaving an institution. However, senior women who are satisfied with their visibility for professoriate positions at other institutions and organizations were more likely to consider leaving.

Dissatisfaction with clerical and administrative support, with health and retirement benefits, with course assignments, and with teaching loads were other factors in women’s consideration of leaving. Satisfaction with the quality of students was important to retention but was overshadowed by teaching load. That is, lower satisfaction with the quality of students was related to staying at an institution only if satisfaction with teaching loads remained high. In fact, teaching load was a slightly stronger predictor of the retention of senior women than satisfaction with salary. This may stem from the additional time, revealed in the survey, that senior women spend on teaching. Finally, satisfaction with office or lab space was also a predictor of retention.

Retaining Senior Women

Keeping morale high and attending to many areas of faculty satisfaction will be important for institutions that face budget constraints in the coming years. Findings from the 2007–08 HERI faculty survey strongly suggest that building community is important to the retention of tenured academic women at their home institutions, and a strong community can be established without a cost. Efforts by administrative leaders to improve relations with senior women and to create an environment conducive to positive social relationships among faculty will go a long way toward helping an institution retain senior women. Shared decision making in the process of making cuts and identifying areas for innovation engender trust and engagement among senior women. Further, health and retirement benefits and faculty office and lab space are important to faculty satisfaction and need to be sustained even in an era of constrained resources.

Short-term budget-related changes in teaching and teaching load may affect women more than men. Among the possible ways to offset the increased dissatisfaction and increased stress from larger teaching loads would be to increase, even in these difficult times, either clerical or administrative support. Equity in distribution of teaching loads, course assignments, and teaching assistants will be important. Deans and department chairs play a key role in this area and can help ensure that we continue to support senior women even if salaries remain static in the coming years.

Sylvia Hurtado is professor and director of the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at the University of California, Los Angeles; her e-mail address is [email protected]. Linda DeAngelo is assistant director for research in HERI’s Cooperative Institutional Research Program; her e-mail address is [email protected].