Date: Wed, 03 Feb 1999 11:41:07 -0500 (EST)
Subject: CSWA Newsletter for 2/3/99

           AAS Committee on the Status of Women
     weekly issues of  2/3/99, ed. by Priscilla Benson
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This week's issues:
1.  Why are there few women applicants?
1.  Why are there few women applicants?
From: Kathryn Mead

The message regarding the discrepancy in the fraction of 
female applicants for post-doc and tenure track positions 
stimulated me to formulate an interesting hypothesis. 
However, after writing it out, I realized it doesn't explain 
the situation raised. Instead, it bears on the inverse 
relationship between fraction of women and level of job. 
Though it doesn't answer Jim Lowenthal's question, it may 
still be interesting to readers.

Assuming some level of bias against women, women may have a 
better chance of getting a post-doc than a permanent 
position because bias has less chance to affect a hiring 
decision at the post-doc level. The chance for bias 
increases with job rank because the employer is taking a 
bigger risk on the candidate and thus the candidate receives 
increasing scrutiny. Sometimes this increased scrutiny may 
mean increased effort to find reasons _not_ to approve the 
hire or promotion.

For example, it's not as big a risk for an institution to 
hire a post-doc for 1-3 years as for a tenure-track 
professor. Also, post-docs are often funded by a grant to an 
individual or a group. Thus, the hiring of post-docs on 
average probably has to be approved by fewer levels of 
bureaucracy or receives less scrutiny at the levels above 
the search committee or PI than for t-t positions.

That's the hypothesis: for lower ranking jobs, gender bias 
has less chance to effect the outcome because there are 
fewer levels of scrutiny and less scrutiny at each level 
above the primary level (department or PI of the grant).

Here are some additional thoughts on the specific issue of 
the attrition of women between the post-doc and t-t career 

The fraction of permanent jobs is what, 1/10 that of post-
docs? (This is based on a casual count of jobs in the Job 
Register.) Perhaps women perceive that because t-t jobs are 
so rare that the applicant perceives that her vita must be 
stronger than is a man's perception of the job requirements. 
For example, maybe women wait until after the 2nd or 3rd 
post-doc to apply for a permanent job while men apply after 
the first post-doc.

Perhaps, on average, women are more selective than men about 
which permanent jobs they apply for. In other words, perhaps 
women send out fewer job applications than men. By the time 
the average woman finishes her 3rd post-doc, she's well into 
her 30's and is not as mobile as the average man. Also, 
perhaps women use a more targeted approach to job 
applications while men use a "shotgun" approach. Because of 
the small number of women in an applicant pool, even a small 
difference in the number of applications that women and men 
send out could result in a large discrepancy such as seen by 

Perhaps by the time a woman is in her 30's (when she is 
ready to apply for a permanent position) she realizes that 
it is no longer worth it to carry the baggage that goes with 
the joy of astronomy. I think women spend more time than men 
making these sorts of evaluations. Because of different 
societal expectations, the woman feels freer to leave 
astronomy and pursue a career which has less pressure and 
allows for more life-satisfaction. Thus, maybe there are 
fewer women are in the permanent-job applicant pool.

Because of the disparity in number of post-doc and t-t jobs 
available, a lot of astronomers are going to leave the field 
before they get permanent jobs. Perhaps women leave before 
applying for permanent jobs, while men leave after applying.

Respectfully Submitted
Kathryn Mead

Editor's Note:  I don't have statistics for this, but my 
impression is that a large fraction of women astronomers are 
married to a male astronomer.  This fraction is no where 
near as large for male astronomers (there are fewer female 
astronomers than male astronomers!).  Perhaps the married 
women astronomers apply only where there is a likely tenure 
track position in commuting distance for their husband as