Examining the gender disparity across academic fields at the College

This is the first installment in a two-part series that will look at gender disparity in majors at the College. The first part will look quantitatively at the gender gap in different majors and compare the gender ratio of different majors to the gender ratio of faculty in these departments and the gender disparity at peer institutions while the second part will address the different measures that the College and student groups are taking to address this disparity.

Graphic by William Newton via Venngage.

Though the gender ratio at the College is roughly equal (51 percent female and 49 percent male), there is still a large gender disparity in many majors. Between 2011-2015, female students composed 64 percent of Division I majors, 49 percent of Division II majors and only 36 percent of Division III majors. More specifically, over 70 percent of people who graduated with degrees in computer science, physics, philosophy, mathematics or economics were male. During that same time frame, over 75 percent of majors in women’s, gender and sexuality studies (WGSS), art history, anthropology and Spanish were female.

Of the five majors where at least 60 percent of the students are male, three of them also have faculties with at least 60 percent males (computer science, physics and economics). Mathematics and philosophy, despite graduating a disproportionate number of males, has roughly the same percentage of males as females in their faculty departments. Similarly, of the five majors that graduate the highest percentage of females, three of them also have faculties that are at least 70 per- cent female (WGSS, Spanish and comparative literature). The art history and anthropology faculties have roughly the same percentage of female and male faculty.

Graphic by William Newton / News Editor (via Infogram)

These numbers are similar to numbers at peer institutions. Between 2013-2015, the College had a slightly higher percentage of females in its five most male dominated majors than Amherst did in those same majors and roughly the same percentage as Wesleyan did.

  • PTier

    There are huge gender disparities in many computative and scientific fields, but as a geosciences alum, I have to point out that it is one major at Williams that never seemed to conform to the broader trend.

    I believe women steadily comprise 30% of the geoscience workforce. It is a very male-heavy field, often with a fair amount of machismo thrown around. Nevertheless, I would wager that the percentage among majors at Williams, over the past decade or so, would be much higher than 30%. Moreover, from my limited sample size, I imagine the percentage who pursue careers related to earth science is also higher than the national norm.

  • Kt

    As someone who was dropped from introductory comp sci 4 times, the low female participation in comp sci doesn’t surprise me. I came to Williams much less confident about my computer science skills (partially because I didn’t have much exposure pre-Williams, which I suspected would be common for most females), and waited until the spring of sophomore year to start taking an intro course. Sadly by this point it was “obvious” that I wouldn’t be a major, so the department prioritizes freshmen instead. I was never able to get into intro comp sci ever again. Majoring was not an option if exploring the major was not an option.

    On the other hand I started out with Math in freshman spring, had ample time to explore and decide, and ended up becoming a major. Had I not started in freshman year, getting into Calc 151 or 150 would have been no issue. Regarding Econ, the same story. I was able to get into Econ 110 in the Spring of sophomore year (again, no exposure pre-Williams), was able to explore, and eventually became a major. As one of the few female double Math-Economics majors at Williams, I can say that personally, the ability to sample intro courses leads to me unexpectedly falling in love with those subjects.

    To this day, as a senior, I regret not having a chance to take comp sci (I’m supplementing by self-learning, but I regret the missed opportunity of studying under the wonderful Williams profs). Perhaps it was my fault that I went with the subjects that I was most comfortable with in my younger years (Physics (didn’t like), Chemistry (didn’t like) > Math (majored), Psychology (didn’t like) > Economics (majored) + try to get into comp sci). But perhaps making intro classes in these female-scarce fields more available to upperclass women might lead to unexpected majors.