Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Summary: Influences on Scientists' Career Pathways, Kenefic and Stout, April 28

Drs. Laura Kenefic (MS '95) & Susan Stout (MS '84), USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station, Bradley ME and Irvine, PA, spoke about the USFS Civil Rights Special Project:  Influences on Scientists' Career Pathways on April 28 in a bonus installment of the Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions Speaker Series.  The presentation was sponsored by the Department of Forest and Natural Resources Management, the US Forest Service, and the ESF Women's Caucus.  The primary goals of the USFS Civil Rights Special Project are to understand the diverse career pathways of scientists in the Northern Research Station, and to examine the role, if any, that gender plays in the scientists definitions, perceptions, and attainment of career goals. Drs. Laura Kenefic and Susan Stout, and their colleagues Cherie LeBlanc Fisher and Christel Kern surveyed scientists about career pathways, impact of mentoring, changes in family, and measures of job satisfaction.
In this project, they surveyed employees that remained in the pipeline; they did not talk to former employees to determine if they left for professional advancement, or for personal reasons.  In general, they had a good response rate across the board, with the exception of younger male employees.  They found that women were only slightly more likely to perceive a negative or neutral influence of childcare on career trajectory compared to men, but men and women were increasingly concerned about their families and eldercare. They also confirmed that men and women considered different factors when rating job satisfaction—women value flexibility, while men prefer security.  Women also value work relationships (a strong work ethic, collaboration and teamwork) more than their male counterparts. Also, the Forest Service’s official mentoring program is not perceived as satisfactory and is not well used, but overall, other mentors have had a positive influence on the individual researchers careers.  And, those that employees (men and women) who answered that they had been subject to discrimination and harassment were far more likely to think that they had made the wrong career choice and were unsatisfied with the balance between personal and professional lives. 
They have a lot of data still to analyze, including qualitative data that may shed more light on some of their results.  The reiterated that they only surveyed current employees, and that because at least one of the researchers would know each respondent, they chose to generalize some of the questions in order to maintain anonymity.

Please note that while the Speaker Series has concluded for this year, we are looking for suggestions for programs for the upcoming academic year.  For more information, please visit
Dr. Kenefic sent this summary prior to their visit:
There were few significant differences among the career pathways that men and women scientists followed.

Most respondents reported having at least one mentor or career advocate.  Of these, 46% of female respondents and 30% of male respondents reported having at least one female mentor or career advocate.  

There were no gender differences in the ways that marital status, becoming a parent, parenting, or having eldercare responsibilities affected self-perceived career success.  There was a difference (though not statistically significant) between men and women in the influence of parenting young children; a higher proportion of women believed that this had a negative influence on their career, while a higher proportion of men believed that this had been a positive influence on their career.

Women were significantly more likely than men to feel that their gender influenced the way they felt about their job, career and self-perception of career satisfaction, and this influence was likely to be mixed or positive.  There were no statistically significant differences between men and women in the self-perceived role of gender in getting a job or in career advancement

A greater proportion of women then men said that job flexibility is “very important” to their personal definition of career success; men were more likely than women to say that job security is “very important” to their personal definition of career success.

Women were more likely than men to rate “a strong work ethic,” “an applied science orientation,” “relationships with managers,” “relationships with NGOs,” and “teamwork” as “very important."  Men were more likely than women to rate participating in civil rights activities as “unimportant;” about half of all respondents rated this as “sometimes important, sometimes unimportant.”