September 20, 2006

NAS Report on Women in Science

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at September 20, 2006 3:12 PM

A National Academy of Sciences panel on women in science finds:

For 30 years, the report says, women have earned at least 30 percent of the nation’s doctorates in social and behavioral sciences, and at least 20 percent of the doctorates in life sciences. Yet they appear among full professors in those fields at less than half those levels. Women from minority groups are “virtually absent,” it adds.

The report also dismisses other commonly held beliefs — that women are uncompetitive or less productive, that they take too much time off for their families. Instead, it says, extensive previous research showed a pattern of unconscious but pervasive bias, “arbitrary and subjective” evaluation processes and a work environment in which “anyone lacking the work and family support traditionally provided by a ‘wife’ is at a serious disadvantage.”


(Via Bitch, Ph.D.) Although the conclusion is unsurprising to anyone who has followed this issue, it's good to see the gender gap getting attention at high levels beyond Larry Summers dismissing it as due to "innate differences". The NYT article is short on recommended reforms, but I don't know whether that is also true of the original report.

The panel included UC Berkeley's chancellor Robert Birgeneau, and the late UCSC chancellor Denice Denton, who committed suicide recently, had also been on the panel before her death.

Back in March we had a pretty good comment thread on this subject.

Tags: Academia, Science, UC Berkeley
Comments

Having derailed from the professorial track myself, I think the "unconscious bias" bit is wearing pretty thin. But the rest of it has some good points. There is an "arbitrary and subjective" process for advancing from grad school to professor and it's hard on everyone. The work environment, does indeed, suck mightily. Either you should have NO interests or life outside of research or you need a wife to deal with the family life without you.

What the world needs is more male wives. Men who are attracted to brilliant, powerful women, who will work at a decent-enough job to earn money during the woman's early career and then quit working and care for the home and children. If anyone finds such a man, I've got a long list of women dying to meet him.

Posted by: Jenny | September 20, 2006 3:58 PM

An "unconscious" bias probably also includes the fact that a lot of people have become very good at hiding more conscious biases. I suspect, however, that there is at least some truth to that among some people.

And it's certainly very hard, and I am most definitely feeling these pressures presently.

Posted by: Mason | September 20, 2006 11:06 PM

I don't really think I should be virtually required to be married, and married to a specific kind of person, to suceed in science.

And there unmarried male scienctists who do very well. (Of course, they aren't expected to be well-dressed or tidy or socialized!)

The last paragraph of the article, alas, is just not true. Every woman I know in physics and a good number in other fields has encountered it at least once. Now, maybe there are fewer people saying it more often, but it's clearly still a bias against women out there.

Posted by: Wren | September 21, 2006 7:51 AM

Jenny: such a man does exist, but Bitch PhD already married him. :-)

I'm glad I long ago decided not to bother with faculty jobs - I'm just not that much of a workaholic. The unmarried men who succeed are that "NO life outside of work" category. One gave a talk at the job search session at the AAS a couple years ago, and his description of how little life he has confirmed that that path was not for me. I'd rather poke my eye with a sharp stick, actually.

Posted by: Justin | September 21, 2006 10:26 AM

I think the gender gap will persist as long as the number of PhDs >> the number of faculty slots. Because there are so few openings, to get one requires running through a juggernaut. Those who suceed are either (a) married to their research, (b) married to another workaholic who doesn't mind that work has to come first, or (c) has a "wife" to manage their non-research life. And even for men, those wives are getting hard to find.

Posted by: Jenny | September 21, 2006 2:41 PM

Josh: Once I read Jenny's post, I knew that was coming from somebody. Had I gotten here earlier and seen that, then I would have done it myself. :)

By the way, I think it is possible to succeed scientifically and have a social life outside of work. I both go out a lot and work really hard. There is that old Caltech combinatorics problem....

Posted by: Mason | September 21, 2006 5:44 PM
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