May-June 2009 Issue • Volume 37 • Issue 5

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An Update on Gender-friendly Sociology Departments

The latest "report card" on doctoral-granting programs

The Sociologists for Women in Society (SWS) recently awarded a number of PhD-granting sociology departments three different "Seals of Approval" based on: Their gender equity in the areas of faculty ratio, gender scholarship, as well as progress toward achieving both equitable faculty ratio and gender scholarship. The SWS Report Card on Gender Scholarship and Equity in Sociology Departments: Revision to the Report Card on Gender and Women Friendly Institutions is an update to the original 2004 report, which detailed the state of women and gender scholarship in the discipline (see the November 2004 Footnotes).

In the four years between the original report and this latest revision, "the presence of women and gender scholarship has changed dramatically," with many more departments awarded the seals of honor in 2008, according to the recent report’s authors Barbara Risman and Lisa Berube, both of the University of Illinois-Chicago. While there is reason for optimism, there is still under-representation of women in tenure-track positions and gender scholarship, they maintain.

According to data from the National Science Foundation (NSF), females are outpacing males in earning doctorate degrees in sociology. ASA’s research department found that while women’s representation in sociology departments at all types of institutions has been increasing, it has been at a very gradual pace (see the December 2008 Footnotes). According to NSF data, in 2005, 64 percent of new sociologists were women. Other research has found that women are overrepresented among the lowest-paid, part-time positions. In addition, a number of previous studies have found that the higher one moves along the academic ladder, the fewer women there are, and the less diversity overall. The SWS Report Card found some positive news in the great deal of departmental variation, even among the upper ranks, indicating positive changes for women, feminists, and gender scholars.

Seeking to provide a different ranking system from the U.S. News & World Report on graduate programs, the SWS report’s goal was to recognize departments that excelled at providing a welcoming climate for women and feminist scholars as well as recognize an improvement in equity. The SWS report ranks doctoral-granting departments on the "percentage of tenure-track faculty who are women" and the "percentage of tenure-track faculty with research and teaching specialties in the areas of gender and inequality" within doctoral-granting sociology departments. Taken together, these measures represent a department’s openness to women and to gender research and teaching. The report was based on data collected from the 112 PhD-granting departments listed in the ASA 2007 Guide to Graduate Departments of Sociology.

Faculty Gender Equality

The most positive news in the report was the increase in women in tenure-track positions. Sixty-five percent (73) of doctoral-granting sociology departments met the standards to be awarded the SWS Seal of Approval for Faculty Gender Equity, which was given to all departments in which 40 percent or more of the faculty are women. This means that that a high ratio of female professors in sociology departments is now the norm. In 2004, 37 graduate departments met this standard, representing 33 percent of the doctoral-granting departments. Of the 20 most prestigious departments in the country (among the top 20 departments as ranked by the 2006 U.S. News & World Report), nine received this Seal of Approval. This is triple the number of those receiving the seal in 2004. Those universities were: University of California-Berkeley, University of Michigan, Stanford University, Indiana University, Northwestern University, Cornell University, Duke University, Ohio State University, and Yale University. On the other side of the spectrum, 13 percent of sociology departments have less than 30 percent women faculty, and two departments have less than 20 percent female faculty.

Gender Scholarship

Sociology departments with a central focus of research on gender or inequality research with an intersectional approach received the SWS Seal of Approval for Gender Scholarship. This award was given to departments in which more than 25 percent of the faculty name some form of gender or inequality studies among their specialties. Twenty-four departments met the standards of scholarship to be awarded the seal of approval, representing 21 percent of the sociology departments. In 2008, the SWS awarded 37 departments the seal, representing 33 percent of the sociology departments. Of the most prestigious departments, two universities qualified for the gender scholarship seal: Stanford University and Cornell University. This was a slight increase from 2004 when no departments received this distinction.

Overall Seal of Excellence

The SWS recognized those departments that excelled in both the proportion of faculty who are women and in the representation of scholarship in gender inequality with the SWS Seal of Excellence. This award is meant to suggest that a department is more likely to be one of the most gender- and women-friendly in the country. Among the doctoral-granting departments, 29 met the high standards and were awarded the seal of excellence in 2008, which was more than double the number (12) of departments that received the honor in 2004. Of the 29 departments recognized by the SWS for the gender-friendliness, 18 were ranked among the 60 most prestigious sociology departments by the U.S. News & World Report, and two were among the 20 most prestigious.

"Our hope is that department leaders in sociology departments across the country will use these findings to advertise these strengths and to identify and overcome their weaknesses," said Risman and Berube. They believe that the most important finding is that students don’t have to decide between a prestigious department or a female-friendly department. logo_small

For the full SWS report and a more detailed listing of the universities that received seals of approval, visit


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