I just came across this new NSF-supported event organized by the University of Washington ADVANCE center for institutional change: “On-ramps to Academia”. This program addresses the extreme shortage of women science faculty in academia by targeting another pool of women to hire from – those with jobs in industry or consulting firms or non-academic labs. It’s a free program that offers a two-day workshop to provide these women scientists with tools, support and contacts to apply for academic jobs. The first annual workshop will be held in October.
I love the idea of on-ramps to support women transitioning into academic jobs. I find it interesting, though, to pull from the small pool of women who are already in these non-academic positions and woo them into academia, rather than trying to expand that pool of women in the first place by making academia a friendlier environment in which to balance a family (which is a major reason for the smaller numbers of women in academia). I am curious about this program and about who these women are. Are they further along in family rearing, so even if academia is a harder place to raise a family they can handle this hurdle better now? Or are they women who have pursued careers where it is also difficult to raise children, so they are already selected out as ones who have successfully juggled their career and family? Or have they, like so many women who succeed in academia, opted out of having children?
Can this kind of training to ready women for academic jobs be applied to women who have been out of the mainstream workforce raising children? This is one way to make academia family friendlier – to allow for multiple-year time outs by providing help to get back in (granted, the programs may need to be longer and more involved than a two-day workshop). I think this would be a step in a very interesting, fruitful direction.