Why are women underrepresented in the ranks of tenured faculty? The reason isn’t lower productivity, according to a new study presented 17 August at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association. Women received tenure less often than men with equal productivity in three disciplines studied by Kate Weisshaar, a Ph.D. student in sociology at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

Weisshaar tracked the careers and productivity of scholars who were assistant professors of computer science, sociology, and English at research universities between 2000 and 2004. Comparing equally productive men and women 10 years later, she found that more of the men had won tenure. In computer science and sociology, the discrepancies were “highly significant,” Weisshaar says, quoted at Inside Higher Ed. “It’s not that we need to make women more productive. It’s that we need to change the processes."

“Depressing” is how the session chair characterized Weisshaar’s findings, the article reports—but also informative. When women preform as well as men, they receive fewer rewards. The problem, therefore, is not in the women. And while Weisshaar’s findings apply only to those three fields, there’s no reason to believe that other disciplines where women are underrepresented at the highest levels treat women any more fairly than the disciplines Weisshaar studied.

Beryl Lieff Benderly writes from Washington, D.C.

10.1126/science.caredit.a1400212