The B-School Glass Ceiling

New study finds women tend to stagnate in faculty rank after earning tenure, while men tend to go on to full professorships.
February 23, 2010

Female professors at business schools tend to remain in the mid-faculty ranks after earning tenure, while their male counterparts are more likely to continue onward to full professor, according to a new study.

The study by Shani D. Carter, chair of the management and marketing department at Rhode Island College, is scheduled to be presented later this week at the annual conference of the Academy of Human Resource Development. It utilizes data from 1988 to 2004 provided by the National Study of Postsecondary Faculty.

While, during this 16-year time period, there were inequities in the distribution of males and females throughout the faculty ranks of all disciplines, Carter writes that these gaps were particularly stark in the field of business. For example, in 1988, the largest proportion of male and female faculty members were at the instructor level. As of 2004, the largest proportion of female faculty members were instructors, but a plurality of men (38.2 percent) were at the level of full professor. Additionally, the percentage of male full professors grew from 18.9 percent to 38.2, while that of female full professors only went from 6.4 percent to 13.8.

Proportion of Business Faculty Members in Various Ranks, by Gender

  Professor Associate Professor Assistant Professor Instructor Lecturer
Female 13.8% 15.4% 20.4% 40.7% 9.7%
Male 38.2 23.2 24.5 10.5 3.7
Female 6.4 8.3 16.7 57.6 11.0
Male 18.9 15.0 19.2 39.8 7.2

Carter also noticed a similar gender gap in the salaries of business school professors. For example, the 2008-9 salary survey conducted by the AACSB International: The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business shows that female business professors, tenure and non-tenured, earn less than their male counterparts.

Given the nascent stage of her research, Carter said she was unsure why the post-tenure career paths differ for male and female faculty members or why the differences are more pronounced in business. Still, she noted that related studies from the U.S. Department of Education suggest that these differences “are not entirely due to human capital factors,” such as “level of education, experience and percentage of time devoted to tasks.”

“I’ve heard some women say, ‘Once I get tenure, that’s going to be enough for me,’ ” Carter said. “There are a lot of people who say it doesn’t have anything to do with gender bias.… Still, for every woman who says that, there are two or three women who say they’ve tried to seek promotions and haven’t gotten them.”

Andrew Policano, chairman of the board of AACSB and dean of the Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California at Irvine, noted that, in decades past, women often did not advance in the faculty ranks due to publishing requirements that valued quantity more than quality. In addition, he noted that women who had children during the tenure process were also treated unfairly.

Still, Policano said the data presented by Carter, given its age, is a trailing indicator and doesn't align with the gender breakdowns present at many business schools today. For example, he argued that most business schools have made productive changes to their faculty policies, encouraging more females to move up the faculty ranks.

He said that the Merage School has adopted a liberal parental leave policy that allows both men and women to take off a significant amount for the birth of a child while pausing the six-year tenure clock. It has also expanded its mentoring program, he said, matching senior and junior faculty to discuss professional development issues.

“The flow of women through our system is sufficient,” Policano said of the Merage School, where 39 percent of the faculty is female. “It’s not as if I have to bang on anyone’s head to hire a woman.… This issue is making sure we make clear how precious and valuable these individuals are and to guide them through the tenure process and beyond.”

Carter acknowledged that many business schools have made productive changes to encourage females to earn tenure. Still, she believes this gap should be more fully explored to account for the differences that remain in promotion after tenure.

“Most colleges and universities in the U.S. have done an excellent job over the last 20 years of hiring female faculty members and in having them obtain tenure,” Carter said. “Probably relatively little is left to be done in expanding access to tenure track positions for women, compared to 20 years ago. The data, however, show that there are differences in the rate of obtaining promotion to full professor.”


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