New Public Policy Study Asks, Where Are the Women?

Posted: October 18, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Jocelyn Rappaport

Connie L. McNeely, associate professor of public policy, is principal investigator for a major project that examines the institutional diffusion of policies and practices aimed at increasing the number of women faculty members in the various science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields in U.S. universities.

The project is funded by the National Science Foundation.

“We take an institutionalist approach to organizational culture, action and leadership to examine internal and external policy processes and impacts relative to the participation of women in STEM graduate education and the professoriate itself,” explains McNeely.

“We are interested in how organizations like universities adapt to changing legal and political environments. And our interest is whether and how well these organizations can adapt to pursuing new goals, such as diversity in training, recruitment and retention of faculty.”

Few studies have taken this perspective and almost none have done so over a long period of time, although numerous studies have focused on women and examined their career trajectories based on individual interviews and surveys.

“These studies provide a wealth of information, and are, in fact, the starting point for our own research,” McNeely says. “However, our questions are different: Do organizations matter in this process? Do university organizations respond, and respond effectively, to changing legal and political environments that have entrusted them with new missions and purposes?”

These questions, McNeely notes, can only be answered by focusing on universities as organizations and how they respond to change over time. For example, studies of individual women scientists might reveal their success rates in academia. However, McNeely is interested in the aggregate rate of success or failure because this is what universities have been charged with changing.

The study, which covers the period between 1960 and 2006, asks whether universities have changed in this respect, individually and as sectors of academia. Moreover, McNeely is interested in how universities have managed to change in meaningful ways and become effective in discharging this mission.

The study will provide insight into how policies aimed at increasing graduate STEM degrees awarded to women, as well as policies for faculty recruitment and advancement, can be implemented throughout and across universities. It will also examine how the policies can be applied more generally under different conditions.

McNeely is joined on the project by David Kamens, professor emeritus, Northern Illinois University; and Jong-on Hahm, research professor, George Washington University. Both are Mason School of Public Policy distinguished senior fellows. In addition, Sorina Vlaicu, who earned her PhD from Mason, is a postdoctoral research associate on the project team. Research assistants include graduate students Lindsey Poulin, Sherzod Abdukadirov and Ryan Zelnio, along with staff research associate Bryan Day and recent PhD recipient Erik Kuiler.

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