Only 18 percent of STEM professors at UH in 2015 were female, according to the Center for Advancing UH Faculty Success, a new program that was created in part from a grant from the National Science Foundation.
A grant from the National Science Foundation helped create the Center for Advancing UH Faculty Success as a part of ADVANCE, a larger NSF program. The goal of the program is to increase the number of women in STEM fields. The center had assembled the Career Paths Subcommittee in fall 2014 and tasked it with investigating career options for women.
The subcommittee conducted an anonymous survey among people inside and outside of UH who had served as department chairs.
"There were a lot of interviews with people in leadership positions within UH and the message was this is not a transparent process," said Jami Kovach, associate professor of information and logistics technology and CPS chair. "A lot of these decisions about who becomes a chair, a dean and so on happen behind closed doors."
Members of the committee said many employees face an issue of not knowing how to advance to an administrative position.
"Most people, once they get tenure and then get to associate level, just continue to do what they were doing before because they don't know that there are other things that exist that they could do," said Bill Epling, member of the subcommittee and professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering.
Even those who did manage to get an administrative position often don't know how to handle it. Most of the time, leaders had to learn on the job, and while there are things that can only be learned through experience, it would be better if there were ways to prepare for the job, Kovach said.
"A lot of people who we asked 'What made you become a leader?' — most of them didn't really have a good answer," said Fatima Merchant, associate professor of engineering technology and a member of the subcommittee.
Though the initial goal was to get more women into leadership positions, the investigation revealed that women aren't the only ones affected by these issues. Kovach said that the tools they developed can be useful to anyone, regardless of gender.
Kovach said she believes the committee's work promotes transparency in the process of getting into leadership positions, which fosters a more positive and inclusive environment.