Part II: The Glass Half Full: Gendered Progress in Academic Networking

27 August 2013, 1135 EDT

This is a guest post by Sara McLaughlin Mitchell, Professor and Department Chair of Political Science at the University of Iowa. 

In my previous post, I discussed some problems women face when networking in political science. Here I focus on the progress we have made.

As a quantitative conflict scholar, I spend a great deal of time networking in several male-dominated research communities, including the Peace Science Society, the ISA SSIP section, the APSA Conflict Processes section, and the Society for Political Methodology. I first presented at a Peace Science meeting in 1996, being one female of 9 at the conference out of 66 participants. I attended my first Political Methodology summer conference in 1994 and was one of 9 women out of 50 participants. A healthy ego combined with enjoyment of traditionally male things such as drinking, gambling, and sports eased my own integration into these communities.  Yet I attended many presentations by smart women in both organizations who soon afterwards made decisions to exit the groups or leave the profession. This included the female co-chair of my dissertation committee, two female students at Michigan State who graduated ahead of me and got jobs in top 25 ranked programs, and several women from other top institutions.

We now label this dynamic the leaky pipeline.  Consider that women receive 45% of bachelor’s degrees and 40% of doctoral degrees in political science (data from the National Science Foundation).  Yet women constitute smaller percentages within academic ranks, with only 28% of faculty positions in the US held by women (data from APSA).  Women are more represented at lower faculty ranks (e.g. 42% of assistant professors) than higher ranks (e.g. 29% of full professors) (see Mitchell and Hesli 2013; ; Hancock, Baum, and Breuning (2013) report 50% women assistant professors among ISA members versus 20% women full professors.

Seeing so many women leave the profession was one of the reasons Kelly Kadera, Ashley Leeds, myself, and others created the Women in Conflict Studies (WICS) group. Initial WICS gatherings involving about a dozen faculty and graduate students focused on many issues that women face in our discipline (see also). When I arrived at the University of Iowa in 2004, Kelly Kadera and I created the Journeys in World Politics workshop, a mentoring workshop for women in IR. We sought to create a safe space for women to come together, present their work, and discuss issues that women deal with in a male-dominated subfield. The first workshop in 2004 was quite moving for us both, revealing the need for such a workshop and the wide range of issues that women were dealing with such as gender issues in the classroom, gendered bargaining situations, and balancing family and career.  Discussions also revealed issues we had not even thought about such as gender biases in recommendation letters, the reluctance of female scholars to submit papers to journals or nominate themselves for awards, and dual career problems.  I worked with Janet Box-Steffensmeier, Caroline Tolbert, Michelle Dion and others to create a similar mentoring workshop for women in political methodology (Visions in Methodology or VIM). Kelly Kadera’s forthcoming article in International Studies Perspectives  provides an excellent overview of several issues that have been discussed at Journeys and VIM conferences and she offers useful policy recommendations for individuals and institutions.

I am so pleased by the changes I have seen in our research field in the past decade.  WICS grew from its initial dozen members to nearly 100 faculty and 100 graduate student members today. Over 20 WICS faculty members were tenured in the past five years and a half dozen were promoted to full professor.  The WICS happy hour at ISA was so well attended that we took over the standing space of an Irish pub. I attended an ISA panel on civil wars with about 50 audience members and was pleased to see half the panelists and audience comprised of female scholars.  These experiences are no longer rare as a female quantitative conflict scholar. We are doing a better job attracting and retaining women in our field.

My examples of mentoring networks for women focus on one small community of IR scholars. There are many other groups in our professional organizations with similar goals including Women in International Security, SWIPE, and the women’s caucus groups in APSA, MPSA, and ISA.  Our professional organizations have hosted various panels and roundtables on gender issues in our profession. They have also been willing to invest resources in surveys and data collection projects to study the status of women in our field. All of these steps have constituted huge strides from where the discipline was when I entered graduate school.

Where do we go from here?

1)    The first step involves education and training for all political scientists about these issues and the best strategies for addressing gender biases. This includes reading studies published in the past few decades on the topic and having conversations in our departments and at conferences.

2)    As Brent Sassley argues, social media offers a new tool for promoting better networking and conversations. We should use some of the space dedicated to blogging in IR and political science to talk about gender and other diversity issues.

3)    We need to continue data collection efforts. Vicki Hesli and I are working with APSA on the possibility of conducting a panel study of scholars in our profession. This will help us track what happens to women as they move through the pipeline and identify the factors that increase the chances for “leaks.” Aggregate data tells us there is a problem, but it tells us little about the choices that individual scholars make in their careers.

4)    We need to develop mentoring programs for scholars at multiple career levels. Most of our mentoring efforts have been developed for graduate students and assistant professors, but we have a serious leak in the academic pipeline between associate and full professor ranks. Creativity is required as we move our mentoring programs forward, including the development of mentoring plans to improve post-tenure career trajectories for women.