Panel Paper: The Impact of Gender and Foreign-Born Status on the Perceived Work Environment and Job Satisfaction in Academic STEM Fields: Facing the ‘Double-Barrier’

Friday, November 8, 2019
I.M Pei Tower: Majestic Level, Savoy (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Sang Eun Lee, Arizona State University

This paper explores foreign-born female faculty members’ perceived work environment and job satisfaction in academic science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) field. To examine the effect of gender and foreign-born status, I compare the perceived work environment and job satisfaction of foreign-born female faculty members with their US-born female peers and foreign-born male counterparts. This research also examines individual-level factors that determine the work environment and job satisfaction of foreign-born female academic scientists.

Growing numbers of studies have examined work environments and career disadvantages that female workers may suffer in traditionally male-dominated professions, such as academic science. Studies reveal that females suffer disadvantages in performance evaluations, work-life balance, networking, and the related deficit of social capital, thereby exaggerating gender differences in career outcomes and advancement. In the meantime, scholars have paid more attention to work experiences and career trajectories of foreign-born faculty members as they constitute about 30% of professors in higher education institutions in the United States. It has been found that international faculty face challenges and discrimination in their work such as having unequal opportunities to enter and be included in research networks as well as the feeling of isolation. However, little is known how gender and foreign-born status affect, as ‘double barriers,’ faculty members’ work experience and satisfaction in an integrated manner. Likewise, little systematic empirical research has investigated the extent of gender and foreign-status effects on faculty members’ perceived work environment and satisfaction in academic STEM.

This study uses Social Capital Theory to explain challenges that foreign-born faculty members experience in academic science compared to their US-born peers. The Status Characteristics Theory, describing how gender as a status characteristic leads to gender inequalities in the labor market, is also used to explain the gender differences in work experiences. Based on the theoretical lens, I establish models to capture gender and foreign-status effects on the perceived work environment and job satisfaction among academic STEM scientists.

For the analysis, I use the data collected from a national survey, funded by the National Science Foundation, completed in 2011 by tenured and tenure-track academic faculty in STEM fields from higher education institutions in the United States. Multi-group confirmatory factor analysis with covariates (MIMIC) model is used for data analysis. Findings suggest that foreign-born status and gender act as ‘double-barriers’ for foreign-born female academic scientists. Compared to their US-born peers and foreign-born male counterparts, foreign-born females report lower level of satisfaction with (i) sense of inclusion, (ii) work-life balance, (iii) leadership & decision-making role, (iv) resource allocation, and (v) research collaboration with colleagues in their department. However, they report a higher level of satisfaction with equal treatments to minority faculties in their department than other groups. This study will provide insights on how academic scientists’ gender and foreign-born status, together, affect the quality of work lives. The insights contribute to the theoretical understanding of a diverse and inclusive work environment in academia and also provide empirical evidence by detailed measures of gender and foreign-born status effects in academic STEM fields.