Retention at Michigan Tech

When we hire, we invest our resources at all levels into our newly hired faculty.  Those resources include human, community, departmental, college, and university-level investments in their future.  When these faculty choose to leave Michigan Tech, it costs us all.   It is a highly competitive world and thus there are constant pressures to recruit our best and brightest; as such, we must dedicate efforts to providing the best climate, the best continual support to illustrate how important each member of the Michigan Tech family is to our mission to create a sustainable and just world through research and scholarship, education, and outreach.  

 A renewed focus on retention has occurred via our ADVANCE-related efforts .  The National Science Foundation ADVANCE program is centrally focused on funding projects to support systemic change for gender equity in STEM academic careers.

 Background Data from Michigan Tech

Michigan Tech’s NSF ADVANCE PAID award (2008-2012) was focused on hiring a more diverse faculty.  Those efforts have been successful as the percentage of STEM women faculty has risen from 2006 to 2015 from 17% to 23%.  However, most of this increase has been at the assistant professor level, with only 2% increases at both the associate professor and full professor ranks, despite nearly identical male/female tenure rates.

Like many academic institutions, Michigan Tech must continually address the challenge of increasing diversity among faculty and students, particularly in STEM disciplines. Nationwide, the numbers of women earning degrees in the STEM fields have increased dramatically, yet women are still underrepresented at all ranks of the academic hierarchy, particularly as professors17,91 In 2013, women comprised 22.4% of the faculty in science, engineering and health fields at research institutions and 24.3% at all institutions.92 Similarly, 24% of Michigan Tech STEM faculty in 2014 were female. In the College of Engineering (COE) alone in 2015, 19% were female; 1% of STEM faculty were female minorities.

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To begin to understand this and in preparation for the ADVANCE Institutional Transformation (IT) proposal submitted in January 2016 (and declined in Sept. 2016), faculty data was compiled to examine gender differences in the retention of tenure-tenure track faculty who were hired since 1994 (Institutional Data Task Force Report, 2015).  All faculty were looked at as a single group and were broken up into broad disciplinary areas: engineering and technology, the sciences, and the arts.  Smaller groups were not practical due to small number statistics.

In the Institutional Data Task Force Report, 2015, seven different comparisons were examined: the percent of all faculty and the percent of untenured faculty who left, the average number of years of service prior to leaving for all faculty and for untenured faculty, the percent of faculty who were tenured early, the percent of tenured faculty who remain at Michigan Tech that received early tenure, and the percent of tenured faculty who left Michigan Tech that received early tenure.

There are only two measures that had statistically significant gender differences.  One was the percent of all tenured faculty (both retained and departed) who were tenured early.  The gender differences in the sciences was statistically significant where 31% of the males and 12% of the females were tenured early.  More females than males were tenured early in engineering and technology (26% versus 16%) and the arts (11% versus 7%) but the differences were not significant.  Overall as an institution 19% of the males were tenured early and 15% of the females.  Again, this difference was not statistically significant.

The second measure with a statistically significant difference was the percent of tenured faculty who received early tenure but who left Michigan Tech.  Sixty percent of the females who received early tenure in engineering and technology left while 18% of the males left.  More males than females left after receiving early tenure in the sciences (29% versus 25%) and in the arts (29% versus 20%).  As an institution, more females (35%) than males (22%) left after receiving early tenure, which was not statistically significant.

Some of the other interesting findings included that a higher percentage of women tenured and tenure-track faculty have left the institution than men, with the difference being largest in the sciences (44% versus 35%).  Also, untenured women on the tenure track in the engineering and technology disciplines stayed for an average of two years if they left before being tenured.  For other groups the averages were all between 3.25 and 3.5 years.

To better understand the unique factors that affect the retention of women Michigan Tech engaged the University of Washington Center for Workforce Development (UW CWD) to conduct a small qualitative study of the reasons women faculty left Michigan Tech.

Retention Study of STEM Women Who Departed Tech

To better understand the unique factors that affect the retention of women, Michigan Tech engaged the University of Washington Center for Workforce Development (UW CWD) to conduct a small qualitative study of the reasons women faculty left Michigan Tech.

Michigan Tech and UW CWD iterated on a series of interview questions to probe the overarching research question: For women faculty members in STEM fields, what factors are related to the decision to leave Michigan Tech?  All questions and procedures were IRB approved by both Michigan Tech and UW.  One Michigan Tech individual compiled a list of relatively recent, yet former female faculty members representing all fields and all ranks using HR records.  These former faculty members were then contacted and invited to participate.  UW CWD conducted ~30-minute phone interviews with 8 former female faculty members split between the sciences and forestry, engineering and technology.  Due to the small numbers of participants, confidentiality was carefully protected by UW CWD and via additional edits of the report by Michigan Tech.  Due to this, it was not possible to report results by field, nor by rank. All participants who were interviewed were given the opportunity to read the report and approve it.

The goals of this pilot study were to help Michigan Tech create or modify programs, policies, procedures, or other offerings designed to improve experiences for female faculty and improve retention.  The results also provide baseline information for a larger research study conducted as part of ADVANCE and AMP-UP processes.  The UW CWD final report summarizes 8 factors that influenced women’s decisions to leave Michigan Tech.  The following executive summary briefly discusses each factor, contextualizes it within the larger body of literature on the subject and then identifies recommended action items.  The recommendations are viewed as part of a living document.  Additional recommendations can be added by contact Adrienne Minerick (minerick@mtu.edu) who will vet them through the retention study task force.