Critical Mass or Incremental Change? Effects of Faculty Gender Composition in STEM

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Purpose -- Critical mass theory suggests that attaining a certain propor-tion of a minority group triggers transformation that improves conditions for minority group members. Using faculty gender composition as a con-tinuous rather than categorical predictor, the present research discerns whether the proportion of women influences perceptions among STEM faculty. Methodology -- STEM faculty completed a survey examining percep-tions of department climate for women (i.e., advancement and discrimi-nation) and division of work time. The proportion of women in each department was calculated. Findings -- Using multilevel modeling, we found that women (vs. men) faculty perceive less departmental advancement of women, but that a greater proportion of women in a department is related to increased perceptions that the department advances women. We did not find differ-ences in time male or female faculty reported spending on research, teaching, or service; however, as the proportion of women in a depart-ment increases, there is a decrease in the amount of time individual male and female faculty spent on research and an increase in time spent on service. Contrary to critical mass theory, we found a linear rather than quadratic effect of proportion of women on perceptions of department climate and division of work time. Research limitations -- These effects may not be attributable to gender proportion atone. Practical implications -- Given our finding of incremental effects of proportion of women, a critical mass is not necessary or sufficient for change. Underlying problems of discrimination and stereotyping need to be addressed while recognizing that each woman hired has a positive impact.



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