Navigate, Balance, and Retain:
Developing Success in Mid-Career for Female STEM Faculty
From entry level assistant professors to senior ranks and leadership positions, women are underrepresented. According to a recent report from the National Academies, the underrepresentation of women is largely due to institutional barriers and unintentional but wide-spread biases. At Northern Illinois University (NIU), faculty demographics in STEM disciplines show many of the same characteristics as the national statistics: relatively low recruitment rates for women and high attrition rates. Certain institutional policies may erect barriers, disproportionately affecting the advancement of women faculty. Anecdotal evidence suggests that unwritten rules may be even more pernicious. We propose a two-year assessment that will serve as a step toward effecting institutional transformation. Given the relatively large rank of associate professors at NIU, we will focus particularly on midcareer progress and advancement. Many female associate professors cite unusually heavy service loads and work-life balance issues as barriers to completing the research necessary for promotion. We plan to explore the possibilities and mechanisms for creating high-level mentorship opportunities and peer support programs, addressing two key concerns of our STEM faculty: (1) achieving a balance among teaching, research, service, and personal responsibilities in midcareer, and (2) developing a sense of agency within the workplace, enabling faculty to advance through processes that are not fully transparent.