UH Hilo research team surveys community college faculty to evaluate gender equity in STEM fields

A research team of UH Hilo staff, faculty, and students, along with community experts, are carrying out qualitative and quantitative research across the seven UH community colleges to evaluate gender equity in STEM fields. Survey results thus far show salaries and wages are insufficient, but coaching and mentoring is effective in helping new faculty navigate the system.

By Leah Sherwood.

Researchers at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo are leading a survey of faculty at UH community colleges to investigate equity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Marina Karides
Marina Karides. Photo by Raiatea Arcuri.

Marina Karides, professor and chair of sociology at UH Hilo, leads a research team of UH Hilo staff, faculty, alumni, and students, along with community experts, who are carrying out qualitative and quantitative research across the seven UH community colleges to evaluate gender equity in STEM.

The project is funded by a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE program, which contributes to the NSF’s goal of a more diverse and capable science and engineering workforce, including the recruitment, retention, and advancement of women in academic STEM fields.

“The National Science Foundation is interested in supporting women academic scientists because we know that with diverse representation, we get better science, and phenomena are identified and looked at with different perspectives,” explains Karides, who is principal investigator of the grant.

Karides says the grant project adopts an intersectional approach, taking into account how race, ethnicity, and indigeneity intersect with gender to shape the experiences of STEM faculty. “Indigenous faculty are woefully underrepresented in STEM field across the UH [community colleges], despite efforts to make the system an indigenous place of learning,” says Karides.

STEM faculty across the UH community colleges completed surveys covering a range of topics, and then the responses were analyzed to identify areas that need improving to support STEM women faculty by implementing coaching and mentoring training programs. A similar survey will be distributed to UH Hilo STEM faculty next year.

Coaching and mentoring

The content for the coaching and mentoring sessions will be created based on the analysis of the surveys as well as 50 interviews conducted with women and men STEM faculty by Karides and UH Mānoa sociology graduate student Nathalie Rita. UH Hilo alumna in anthropology Ruth Aloua led the qualitative analysis.

To start, the project will conduct coaching and mentoring trainings. The first cohort of mentors and coaches will begin next semester at all seven community college campuses. The purpose is to prepare mentors with the knowledge and tools to become advocates and build trusting relationships between mentors and mentees. Mentors, usually tenured faculty, can provide knowledge and support to help new faculty navigate the system. After undergoing training, mentors will be matched with mentees from different institutions across the islands in an effort to promote better networking.

Coaching relationships, which involve peer-to-peer support among faculty, are different from mentor-mentee relationships. Part of mentoring is creating a strategic plan and pathway to learn the system, and to have someone in your corner for leverage. Coaching is about creating peer networks where faculty can support each other and collectively address discriminatory experiences.

Survey results

According to a 2019 report published by the National Science Foundation, a larger proportion of men than women in the academy had tenure in 2017 in science, engineering, or health fields. Additionally, women scientists and engineers working full time in 2017 generally made less than men in each broad occupational group surveyed. Overall, women’s median annual salary was $66,000, whereas the median salary for men was $90,000.

The UH survey shows that salaries and wages at the community colleges are insufficient and affordable housing is one of the biggest challenges.

“Approximately 50 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed that their rate of pay is adequate to even meet their basic needs,” explains Karides. “We found that over one-third of respondents work in second and third jobs in the service industry or tutoring in addition to holding a full-time faculty position. What really surprised us is that ten percent of faculty marked being homeless for over three months and up to a year. These are the circumstances of an island tourist economy. An island-centered approach towards UH employment would be a good shift.”

The analysis of surveys also found that almost 20 percent of respondents reported having heard negative stereotypes about their gender in STEM fields at their campuses, and about 25 percent of respondents have heard sexist or gender biased jokes made about their colleagues. About 35 percent of respondents do not believe that if they raise a concern it will be responded to in a timely fashion, or thoroughly reviewed and investigated.

“What this shows is that the administration needs to intervene when women report that they are being harassed or feel that bias has occurred or when the faculty say they are experiencing racism,” says Karides. “There needs to be concrete intervention.”

Karides notes that the surveys reflect stalled career advancement for women. “The ultimate goal is to make the UH system a great place to work for everyone. This is especially important because our survey shows that over sixty percent our survey respondents have received a degree from the UH system.”

Karides says that surveys for the UH Hilo campus are planned for 2020. Those results will be combined with data collected in 2015 from a previous ADVANCE grant. One of the concerns at UH Hilo was that while the institution succeeds at hiring women, many leave after a few years.

On a more positive note, Karides says that the select group of higher education institutions that have received ADVANCE grants find that coaching and mentoring is effective.

“We are creating a network of coaches of women faculty who can assist each other,” explains Karides. “The data shows that both men and women in science have been great mentors to women in STEM. If you have a group of people being coached and mentored who know they are not isolated, then they are more likely to succeed.”

The project is sponsored by the NSF ADVANCE Building Relationships to Increase Diversity and Gender Equity (BRIDGE) Grant #1725604. The co-principal investigators on the grant include Maria Batista, interim vice chancellor for academic affairs at Kapiolani Community College, and Joshua Kaakua, interim academic affairs program officer for the UH community colleges.


Story by Leah Sherwood, a graduate student in the tropical conservation biology and environmental science program at UH Hilo. She received her bachelor of science in biology and bachelor of arts in English from Boise State University. 

Photo by Raiatea Arcuri, a professional photographer majoring in business administration with a concentration in finance at UH Hilo. 


Revision, March 9, 2020: This story has been updated to clarify the coaching and mentoring component of this project, and to remove information about Margary Martin’s participation in that activity. Assistant Professor of Education Martin did not work on this particular project.

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