Fraser Lab DEIJ Journal Club - Gender Disparities in Academic Retention

Our journal clubs aim to provide an environment for continued learning and critical discussion. Based on the discussion, we also brainstorm action items that individuals and labs can implement. Our discussions and proposed interventions reflect our opinions based on our identities and lived experiences. Consequently, they may differ from the discussions held by those with other identities and/or experiences. This journal club took place among the entire Fraser lab. Due to the size of the lab, we split into three groups. Each group had unique but overlapping conversations.

Discussion Leader: Mohamad Dandan, Daphne Chen, Tushar Raskar

Articles: Gender and retention patterns among U.S. faculty

Summary and Key Points: In academia, there is a notable gender imbalance. Despite significant strides in acquiring doctoral degrees, women remain underrepresented in tenure-track faculty positions1,2. Further, and even more surprising, this gap tends to increase as the tenure-track stage increases (assistant professor to full professor)3. This issue is more acute in prestigious institutions. This paper presents data showing that the commonly held belief that this disparity stems mainly from work-life balance is a misconception. Rather, the paper reveals that workplace climate and culture are significant factors.

To identify the underlying contributions to why women tend to leave tenure-track positions, the authors split the reasons for leaving into ‘pushes’ or ‘pulls’. Pushes include workplace climate (including gendered harassment), work-life balance, or work-related reasons (funding issues). Pulls are recruitment for attractive external positions. While push reasons are more common overall, these are more common for women. However, the challenge in addressing these disparities lies in the subjective nature of what constitutes push and pull factors in an academic career. Personal life experiences heavily influence perceptions of these factors, making it challenging to devise universal solutions. For example, people have different expectations of work-life balance, and these expectations are likely to change over time. Second, there is an often subtle difference in how conversations, friendships, and collaborations exist between two parties of the same or different gender. How to mitigate these differences is difficult as the reasoning for them is multifaceted. A conscious effort is needed, particularly from men, to be mindful of these dynamics. Such awareness and a willingness to step back can contribute significantly to narrowing the gender gap and creating a more balanced and inclusive academic environment. Below are some open questions we have after reading this article.

Open Questions:

  1. How does the definition of work-life balance vary among individuals in academia, and what strategies can institutions implement to respect these varying needs?
  2. In what ways does parenthood influence academics’ decisions to leave the field, and what alternatives do they often consider?
  3. How does having a dual-academic career impact the attrition rates, especially regarding gender differences?
  4. Why is there a larger attrition gap among women who are full professors, contrary to expectations?
  5. How does the prestige of an academic institution affect the attrition rates of faculty members?
  6. Would improving gender parity within departments alter the current distribution of academic attrition rates?
  7. What specific challenges and dynamics do parents in academia face, and how do these challenges differ from non-parent academics?
  8. How can academic institutions better support dual-career academic couples to mitigate gendered attrition?

Proposed Action Items:

  1. Explore the possibility of peer mentoring at higher levels of academia, especially for professors in tenure-track positions.
  2. During career development conversations, mentors could discuss potential careers that mentees are interested in in terms of their pushes and pulls. Reframing potential careers in terms of pushes and pulls may make for a more nuanced conversation compared to simple pros/cons, since pushes and pulls ask the mentee to prioritize which values and activities are more important for their particular career goals.


  1. Wapman, K. H., Zhang, S., Clauset, A. & Larremore, D. B. Quantifying hierarchy and dynamics in US faculty hiring and retention. Nature 610, 120–127 (2022).
  2. National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in science and engineering 2021 (2022).
  3. Kaminski, D. & Geisler, C. Survival analysis of faculty retention in science and engineering by gender. Science 335, 864–866 (2012).