September 18, 2006
Breaking the silence on discrimination against women in academic science and engineering
An interesting report out today from the National Academies, and it's a terrific counter to that odious garbage spewed by the former president of Harvard, Lawrence Summers. (Hey, Derek Bok's been doing some cool things since coming in in the interim! I didn't get a chance to post about it, but it is worth watching, his getting rid of Harvard's Early Admissions bias to the hoity toity set)
I'll offer the National Academies Press a kick in the slats for charging $44 to get a copy of the super secret elitist report, however!
Such a radical idea, criticizing the "depriving the U.S. of an important source of talent." I went to an engineering school and have taught at what was largely an engineering school, and I know my fellow women colleagues in science and engineering faced a TON of discrimination, and they told me so many horror stories.
At least with my own specialty in technology and interactive media, things are far more open and interdisciplinary than in the more established fields, even if women still are vastly underrepresented. I'm afraid to admit too much of that is self-selection, even with prominent women represented in so many areas of cybercultures, from Mena Trott to Donna Haraway.
But since being outside of that environment, an environment that at least paid lip service to the idea that talent should be rewarded, used as a valuable resource, I've been out in the corporate world, where the Peter Principle is in active force and people who "know too much" are considered trouble-makers who run the risk of commiting the cardinal sin, actually knowing more in their areas of specialty than their bosses do (the horror, the horror!). So interesting it is, to watch a reverse merit system in force, one that seeks out and tries to promote those who strive for greater and greater mediocrity.
Institutions Hinder Female Academics, Panel Says
Women in science and engineering are hindered not by lack of ability but by bias and “outmoded institutional structures” in academia, an expert panel reported today.
The panel, convened by the National Academy of Sciences, said that in an era of global competition the nation could not afford “such underuse of precious human capital.” Among other steps, the report recommends that universities alter procedures for hiring and evaluation, change typical timetables for tenure and promotion, and provide more support for working parents.
“Unless a deeper talent pool is tapped, it will be difficult for our country to maintain our competitiveness in science and engineering,” the panel’s chairwoman, Donna E. Shalala, said at a news conference at which the report, “Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering,” was made public.
Dr. Shalala, a former secretary of health and human services who is now president of the University of Miami, said part of the problem was insufficient effort on the part of college and university administrators. “Many of us spend more energy enforcing the law on our sports teams than we have in have in our academic halls,” she said.
The panel dismissed the idea, notably advanced last year by Lawrence H. Summers, then the president of Harvard, that the relative dearth of women in the upper ranks of science might be the result of “innate” intellectual deficiencies, particularly in mathematics.
If there are any cognitive differences, the report says, they are small and irrelevant. In any event, the much-studied gender gap in math performance has all but disappeared as more and more girls enroll in demanding classes. Even among very high achievers, the gap is narrowing, the panelists said.
Nor is the problem a lack of women in the academic pipeline, the report says. Though women leave science and engineering more often than men “at every educational transition” from high school through college professorships, the number of women studying science and engineering has sharply increased at all levels.
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 minorities are “virtually absent,” it adds.
The report also dismissed other commonly held beliefs — that women are uncompetitive or less productive, that they take too much time off for their families, and so on. Their real problems, it says, are 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.”
Along with Dr. Shalala, the panel included Elizabeth Spelke, a professor of psychology at Harvard who has long challenged the “innate differences” view, and Ruth Simmons, the president of Brown University, who established a widely praised program for aspiring engineers when she was president of the all-female Smith College.
The report was dedicated to another panelist, Denice Denton, an electrical engineer who until her suicide this summer was chancellor of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a forceful advocate for women, gays and minority members in science and engineering.
The 18-member panel had only one man: Robert J. Birgeneau, chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley. But Dr. Shalala noted that the National Academy of Sciences committee that reviewed the report had 10 men.
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Did anyone expect that this kind of committee, headed by a doctrinaire feminist and a former Clinton cabinet member Donna Shalala, composed overwhelmingly of radical feminists (17 of 18 members were women), WILL NOT conclude that discrimination was a reason for dearth of top female scientists and engineers? Said Donna Shalala, “nothing was a foregone conclusion,” yeah, you’re right. The selection of chair, composition of members and the title of the report, everything single element of this committee-think, committee rubber-stamp report is geared to arrive at one, and I mean only one conclusion - women face discrimination in the science field.
Trying to give a benefit of a doubt that, or hypnotizing yourself hard to believe the charade that this committee was not biased in its approach to the subject matter is already a monumental task in its own right. Looks like even the most hard-headed feminists type in the committee was at least vaguely aware of what they were actually doing so she was already being a little defensive and had to qualify that the study was not meant to “lowering bars”.
The article citing the report doesn’t even bother to explain how US science field is facing global challenge or bad (or good) it is doing as compared to its past, but cited only the political slogans that are music to their ears, such as “we need overarching reform now” etc.
Global competition against who? Which countries? This argument wouldn’t stand unless the US academic excellence in science and engineering is challenged by those countries whose science and engineering field is dominated by women, or at least make more use of the so-called “female talent” (which doesn’t seem to make a dent even in Scandinavian countries). China, for one, who seemed to be rising in this field lately, is of course, a country known for putting gender quota ahead of academic excellence, ha, ha, ha…
Another question.. let’s for the sake of argument say that US science field is indeed in trouble - why turn to a group of people who have made very little contribution in this field in the past, and does not have a track record of producing great scientists on a consistent basis? Why don’t you try to tap into a group of people who have made countless scientific discoveries and made our lives so much convenient and made this country so great. Those group of people are waning out because of gender quota policies, gender politicking, mud-slinging of sexual-harassment or sexual-abuse charges, etc., etc..
Okay, here’s a simple science question or logic question for members of the committee, - when in crisis, should you turn to people with demonstrated abilities in the field in question and achievements in the past, or to people who with no such track record? The latter? Bing! You passed the test to become a member of the Donna Shalala’s committee! The bad news is that however as of today, you are still highly likely to fail an admission test for top universities but it won’t be so for so long, Donna is working around the clock so that logic-deficient people like you can be a part of diverse community of scientific experts that are representative of broader society …translation; (we’re gonna mandate gender quota for science professors and science awards winners).
If science field in this country is going to be dictated by this kind of committee-think and committee-politicking that are reminiscent of Stalin-era Soviet Union, and heads of science department at universities are going to be held by people who are chosen not on the basis of academic excellence but by their gender, then indeed the future of this country’s science field is in big trouble.
Posted by: soren lerby | Sep 19, 2006 1:49:37 AM
Whoever denies there is blatant discrimination against women in science and academia, is in denial. I say this as a former medical scientist trained at Stanford and no longer employed as a scientist, not by choice, but by being blatantly discriminated against. Nowhere have I felt the stigma of gender and being relegated to 'N-----' status, than when attempting to find a job, not just another postdoc, or a temporary lab position, or filling in as a bench tech, but a real job suitable for someone with a doctorate. Instead, the only thing I got was a failure to respond to my application while a male co-worker (I won't call him colleague) coming from only a state university and with less than one-fifth of the publications that I had, did get a response: "we are looking for a nice young man starting a family to award this job". I have also overheard male colleagues discuss with disdain having to hire women, even as bench techs because you never know when they will take off to get pregnant. Do you know what it is like to get an interview, but only to experience being stared at as you are the only female in the back room where all the (male) doctors hangout? Or how about feeling invisible, when you ask a male scientist a question, but they just stare right through you, refusing to acknowledge an inferior being, or the departmental chairman playing games with you and refusing to meet with you by breaking all rescheduled appointments?
All of this and more is reality for women. One gal I know was too good looking and the guys would drool over her since she was a 'hot looking' Italian. In the end, her good looks did her in. She completed wonderful research for a drug company, but they refused to pay her. She filed a lawsuit. She won. Now would they do this to a man? I doubt it. Men are serious. Men count. Women don't.
None of the women I knew back at Stanford are still in science. They were jettisoned out the field; and not by choice. You wouldn't believe all the female scientists I have come across who have wound up as school teachers in the public school system. They gotta work somewhere, and certainly being a school teacher is an acceptable occupation for the weaker sex.
What a waste of humanity, of skilled professionals. This is the reality of America; and not some right wing mindset that says we don't need affirmative action or the ERA. Actually, we need to get rid of the testosterone-laden, chest-pounding primates who currently make up the bulk of institutions that say who gets hired and who gets funded.
Shame on the USA for being such a woman-hating society.....Yes, Virginia, a wise woman, a female scientist is an oxymoron in our society.
Posted by: Dr Bonnie Males | Jun 7, 2007 9:07:57 PM