The United States is now more racially and ethnically diverse than it has ever been, but that diversity is not yet reflected in the sciences. In 2017, traditionally underrepresented minorities — African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders — accounted for nearly a third of the U.S. population, yet only about 17 percent were employed as scientists and engineers in the country. Several years ago, Meredith Morris, an associate professor of genetics and biochemistry who teaches molecular biochemistry at Clemson, began to notice that racial and ethnic gap reflected in her classes.
Like many universities, Clemson struggles with attracting and retaining women and underrepresented minorities as faculty. That problem is magnified in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. Across the campus, 35 percent of full-time faculty are women. In STEM departments, the percentage drops to 19. When racial diversity is factored in, the statistics are even grimmer. Only one of the 509 STEM faculty members is an African-American woman; two are Hispanic women.
In an effort to improve those numbers, Clemson has launched an initiative funded by a $3.4 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to create an inclusive academic culture so women and underrepresented minorities are encouraged to enter and remain in academia. While the national initiative is called ADVANCE: Increasing Participation and Advancement of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Careers, Clemson’s program is nicknamed Tigers ADVANCE, and it has a greater goal: to build a culture that encourages diversity, inclusiveness and acceptance.
“The impact these STEM fields have on our society is immeasurable,” said Robert Jones, Clemson’s provost and executive vice president for academic affairs and co-principal investigator of the grant. “We need diverse ideas and perspectives in the academy and in our workforce to tackle the greatest challenges we, and future generations, will face.”
The grant application process, spearheaded by civil engineering professor Sez Atamturktur, took more than two years and countless hours from more than 40 faculty, staff and students. The group identified five major challenges to women in STEM faculty positions at Clemson and established these corresponding goals:
• Transform the culture and improve the campus climate to reduce bias and implicit bias against women and minority faculty.
• Increase the representation of women in STEM fields.
• Ensure equitable workload distributions so appointments to committees, special projects and other non-academic activities are assigned equally across the faculty.
• Enhance faculty mentoring and leadership development to support all faculty and increase retention.
• Implement family-friendly policies to help improve recruitment and retention of world-class faculty.
With Tigers ADVANCE, Clemson will increase the number of women being considered for faculty positions and put measures in place to retain female members. “We will strive to match the representation of women in faculty positions to the number of candidates available for those positions in the national pool,” Atamturktur said.
Of the 14,499 faculty applicants to Clemson between 2010 and 2014, 23 percent were women, 10.7 percent were minority women and 0.7 percent were African-American women. Of all eligible doctoral degree graduates in the country, 53 percent were women, 15 percent were minority women and 7 percent were African-American women.
“Our search committees absolutely are doing a good job of identifying talented women and bringing them to campus,” Atamturktur said. “The problem is the number of women in our applicant pools is very, very low. We’re starting with fewer options.”
Likewise, although women receive tenure and promotions at rates equal to men, women leave Clemson at rates higher than men. Between 2011 and 2014, 56 percent of assistant professors (pre-tenure faculty) who left were women. Among STEM faculty, 28 percent of tenured or tenure-track faculty members who left were women, although women made up only 19 percent of the faculty.
While the NSF grant specifically supports women in STEM fields, Clemson will make its own investment to extend Tigers ADVANCE to non-STEM departments. “We believe this is the only way to achieve institution-wide impact and sustainable transformation,” Atamturktur said. “Five years from now our campus should be a lot more diverse with a more inclusive culture and more openness to new ideas.”