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Women Outnumber Men in PhD Programs But Still Face Challenges

March marks the annual Women’s History Month.  An entire month dedicated to women and the historical strives that are made, and are still being made.  In addition, March 8th is Women’s Day.  We should continue to work on the areas that need improvement.

For example, Joseph Epstein suggested that the first lady, Dr. Jill Biden, drop the doctor from her title.  I use my doctor title whenever I want to. Now, my focus is in the health care setting and if a person starts talking to me about their health, I do reaffirm that I’m a PhD and not a MD.

Female academics — who are now changing their Twitter names to include “Dr.” and have the hashtag #damnrightimadoctor.

Two female PhDs in the early 1900s, Sophonisba Breckinridge and Edith Abbott, described the challenges they faced as early academics.

“Although I was given the PhD degree magna cum laude no position in political science or economics was offered me,”

Personally, I never had a black female PhD professor for any degree that I attained.

Women in male dominated industries often get left out.  Carolyn Virca embarked on her chemistry Ph.D., she noticed a clear gender rift right from the start. The men would grab beers before seminars or arrange other social activities that didn’t include her—the lone woman in the cohort. “They bonded in ways that I was not privy to,” she says.

How does the lack of support affect women PhDs? Women with no female peers were 12 percentage points less likely to complete their degrees within 6 years than men in the same cohort.  Being the only women is not only lonely but can be detrimental to academic and professional success.

When a female PhD graduates, she is faced with more challenges in the classroom.  What she says and how she is dressed are often challenged.

I remember students would criticize me more harshly over my male colleagues.  Male professors would use words such as, “All you’re going to do is graduate and get a job at McDonalds.”  I would say, “I am challenging you so that you can be well prepared for the workforce.”  The students would say I was, well you know, and the male colleagues were trying to help them.

While my discriminatory outcomes in my previous academic world stemmed more from being black versus a woman, the combination of the two made enjoying the career impossible.

What can be done?

Women earned the majority of doctoral degrees in 2020 for the 12th straight year and outnumber men in grad school 148 to 100.  Therefore, although there are more female dominated PhD tracts that employment world doesn’t match.  Women oftentimes get placed in non-tenure track positions or are offered jobs in less rigorous research focused schools.

“By overall enrollment in higher education men have been an underrepresented minority for more than 40 years since the late 1970s.”  Yet, they make up the majority of higher positions such as deans, VPs, and presidents.

“Women earned 421 master’s degrees in health and medical sciences for every 100 men, 408 master’s degrees in public administration for every 100 men, and 350 master’s degrees in education for every 100 men.” I have found when I attended non-academic luncheons or meetings, the number of women were disproportionally underrepresented.

“In certain fields like Education (76.2% female), Health and Medical Sciences (78.4% female), and Public Administration (79.0% female), women outnumber men by a factor of three or more.”

“Like for doctoral degrees, women outnumbered men in the same 7 out of the 11 fields of graduate study and in some of those fields, the gender disparity was huge.”

Overall, there are still great strides that need to be made to be sure that women in school and in jobs are adequately represented.  Although I had contemplated getting a PhD when I was in undergraduate school, it wasn’t until I entered my master’s degree and had my first black professor that inspired me to pull the trigger and enter the field. The same can happen for women.