Twenty years ago, an APA report found that the number of women in psychology outstripped that of men, though their salaries and status still trailed behind. Fast-forward to 2017, and a new APA report reaches the same conclusion. “The Changing Gender Composition of Psychology: Update and Expansion of the 1995 Task Force Report” reveals that women in psychology continue to lag behind men in power, status and salary.
“It’s a reminder to everyone that we’re still working on this issue and certain inequalities need to be changed,” says Ruth Fassinger, PhD, professor emerita at the University of Maryland’s College of Education and a leading contributor to the APA study, which was authored by the association’s Committee on Women in Psychology.
Perhaps even more surprising is that a lack of equity continues for women in psychology even as women in other scientific fields see more significant gains. Women with computer science and math doctoral degrees, for example, earn about 84 percent of their male counterparts’ wages. For those with doctoral psychology degrees, the percentage is 77 percent—which is actually 8 percent lower than in 1993.
“The fact that we are not doing as well as some other fields is a bit alarming,” says Fassinger. “You would expect psychology to be the leader of the pack because we have people with expertise in areas relevant to this problem,” such as those who specialize in organizational change, gender issues and career development. Perhaps even more important, psychology is a discipline that espouses the value of human dignity, equality and creating healthy, socially just environments, Fassinger says.
Addressing these inequalities needs to be a national priority because “economic security of women is not just about women—it’s about the prosperity of children, families, communities and the national economy,” according to a 2017 report by the Closing the Women’s Wealth Gap (CWWG) initiative, which is working to understand the causes and effects of the gap and to identify solutions.
Women today have a greater role in providing financial security because they are much more likely to be breadwinners than in the past. In 2015, 42 percent of mothers were sole or primary breadwinners, and another 22 percent were co-breadwinners, finds the Center for American Progress. That means 64 percent of mothers had a breadwinning role in 2015 compared with less than 10 percent in 1967.
As a result, women should have an increasingly critical role in providing financial assets families can use for emergencies, investments or to pass on to future generations—yet women are still facing significant barriers that prevent them from accumulating wealth, the CWWG report says. Those barriers range from private sector practices to public systems to policy barriers.
In the academic arena, for example, data in the APA report reveal that far fewer women in psychology achieve full professorship than men. Even though more women are getting jobs in four-year academic institutions (the number of women increased by 250 while the number of men decreased by 1,800 between 1995 and 2014), they are much more likely than men to be at the assistant professor level. In the 2013–14 academic year, 46 percent of men were full professors compared with only 28 percent of women.
Another surprising inequity: Even though 58 percent of APA’s members are women, only about 30 percent of APA fellows are, the report found. Fellow status is given to APA members who have shown evidence of unusual and outstanding contributions or performance in the field of psychology.
APA leaders emphasize that it’s important for the field to better understand the barriers that keep women from higher prestige and income.
“If we research how women are making training and career decisions, we might be able to design solutions to the problems they encounter,” says Fassinger.
For example, she says, perhaps training programs could be restructured to be more conducive to women who have family responsibilities.
“What if we mapped internship site development to graduate training programs in a given geographic area so students could avoid moving their families across the country to fulfill this requirement?”
APA’s Committee on Women in Psychology also recommends that the association form task forces to address the wage gap and underrepresentation of women in academic leadership and full professor positions. APA could also advocate for federal and state policy that encourages salary transparency.
Another solution APA has been promoting is leadership training for women. As part of that effort, in 2008 APA established its Leadership Institute for Women in Psychology, which has trained more than 300 women in such topics as mentoring, fiscal management and the role of political advocacy. The training is offered once a year for five days to about 40 participants.
“Our hope is that women psychologists will become leaders in all sectors of society so they are in decision-making roles when policies are being made,” says Shari Miles-Cohen, PhD, senior director of the Women’s Programs Office. “They generally recognize that there is a gender gap, and will be more likely to question previously accepted views, such as what makes a good leader.”
Psychologists are also doing more to promote women as editors of the field’s journals. According to the report, just 18 percent of APA journal editors are women, a number that has increased by only 4 percent in 20 years. To increase those numbers, the Women’s Programs Office and Committee on Women in Psychology host a roundtable at the annual convention where journal editors who are women discuss topics such as what’s involved in being an editor, how to become one and balancing the role with other work and family responsibilities.
Another journal editor who is working to draw more women to these roles is Jennifer Wisdom, PhD, MPH, of the Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy at the City University of New York. Wisdom, who is the new co-editor of the Psychologist-Manager Journal, and her co-editor, George B. Yancey, PhD, are planning to launch a mentoring program to help students learn how to submit and review manuscripts.
“I hope to increase the pipeline of women who are reviewing and eventually editing manuscripts,” Wisdom says. She also leads a seminar at her school to support faculty and students—and particularly women—who are interested in learning how to lead studies in the field of mental health.
“It’s important for women to choose to see everything as a leadership opportunity, even if they start in a helper or contributor role,” Wisdom says. “If you don’t see yourself as a leader, then it will be hard for others to see you that way.”
By Heather Stringer
Vol 48, No. 10
Print version: page 84