Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science?
October 3, 2013 8:40 AM   Subscribe

Last summer, researchers at Yale published a study proving that physicists, chemists and biologists are likely to view a young male scientist more favorably than a woman with the same qualifications. Presented with identical summaries of the accomplishments of two imaginary applicants, professors at six major research institutions were significantly more willing to offer the man a job. If they did hire the woman, they set her salary, on average, nearly $4,000 lower than the man’s. Surprisingly, female scientists were as biased as their male counterparts. A wonderful long article by Eileen Pollack where she talks to her former mentors, the study authors, and the other female science professors at her alma mater. NYTMagazine, worth reading especially for the absence of glib simple answers. (Previously, of course.)
posted by RedOrGreen (67 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
 
Because I have a huge grant due* very soon, I have only bookmarked the article but very much look forward to reading it.

I will say: I've been a woman in science all my life. Now that I'm a 2nd year faculty in the sciences, I can observe that the sexism at this level is much, much more pronounced, in a variety of ways.

*or not, depending on the obvious.
posted by Dashy at 8:57 AM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


In one physics class, the teacher announced that the boys would be graded on the “boy curve,” while the one girl would be graded on the “girl curve”; when asked why, the teacher explained that he couldn’t reasonably expect a girl to compete in physics on equal terms with boys.

In America, in the 21st century. Good thing we banished sexism decades ago...wait.

As a side note, I know two female physics graduates of Yale from the last couple of years, and they are without questions brilliant and wonderful women. They are both in graduate school or working in a lab, and science is lucky to have them still around.
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:01 AM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I really liked this article.

My mother and I were recently discussing how we both know women engineers who were either immigrants or first gen Americans from the former Soviet Union who don't understand why Americans think engineering is men's work -- in their experience, it was a women's job. Not unrelated, most of the other women in tech I know are similarly immigrant or first gen Asian Americans.

I would be happy to discuss the impact of gender differences, but until we have completely eliminated the strong, obvious, widespread cultural biases against women in STEM, let's avoid harping on unchangeable biology, shall we?

Also, I (a female engineer) wrote this recently -- there are many reasons that more academic encouragement of women is a problem.
posted by olinerd at 9:03 AM on October 3, 2013 [12 favorites]


Interesting articles. Very relevant to my work in Employment Equity at a science-based federal department. We're trying very hard to attract and retain women in the science fields....
posted by aclevername at 9:09 AM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


From Gerda Lerner, speaking at the 2008 Denice Denton Memorial Symposium:

Like all women and all minorities that have been in this position, and still continue in many areas to be in that position of being alone, the only one, the first one, what happens is that the person internalizes it. It’s not big, dramatic things that happen – we remember the big, dramatic moments, you know, [Denice Denton] was locked out of the lab, we remember that – but it’s the daily insults, the daily humiliations, the lack of a climate that treats you like a human being. And I know I could sit here for an hour and tell you about my life in this regard because I’ve been in this position all along, starting a field that everybody said didn’t exist – there was no such thing as the history of women, so what was I doing trying to insist that we have to teach it at undergraduate level. I mean – ridiculous.

I want to close just simply with saying that, first of all I want to say that you may find this very hard to believe – I found it very hard to give this small talk because I have even, after all my life and career and all the many honors and recognitions I have received, I have never talked about the difficulties. . . . We have to recognize the cost of the pioneers, but we also have to recognize that it is the small things, it’s the climate, the way in which we treat women as human beings that makes the difference. . . . We will not have won equity until the most mediocre woman, like the most mediocre man, has a right to make a living. And we used to have a saying in the early days among all the pioneering women of my generation: “You’ve got to be twice as good as the best man in your department in order to get your foot in the door. Fortunately that’s not very difficult.”
posted by Madamina at 9:10 AM on October 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


More incentive, if one is needed, to go to gender-blind resume screening or something, similar to orchestra auditions. It would be easy enough to assign code numbers to resumes instead of names and let them go through the initial review that way.

The interview process will still be a stumbling point, but it would be intriguing to think of ways to get around that. This is the sciences, after all, surely we could come up with a way to isolate the problematic part to get cleaner results?

And as someone who finds out every day just how much sexism she's internalized against her own gender, yeah, that part doesn't surprise me. It's so easy to see yourself as "not one of THOSE women, you know."
posted by emjaybee at 9:12 AM on October 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


More incentive, if one is needed, to go to gender-blind resume screening or something, similar to orchestra auditions. It would be easy enough to assign code numbers to resumes instead of names and let them go through the initial review that way.

It's hard to do that when a large part of your resume is made up of your publications.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 9:16 AM on October 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


If you're interested in reading more about the history of American women in the sciences check out Margaret Rossiter's work. If I remember correctly, Rossiter couldn't even get a tenure-track position until she got her MacArthur genius award.

I was born in the 1950s. My parents, all of my aunts and uncles, and three of my grandparents all went to college. It was assumed that I would go too, but that I would go to find a suitably intelligent man who would support me and our future children. I excelled at math and physics in high school but it never even occurred to me to study those in college, and I certainly didn't get any encouragement from either teachers or family.
posted by mareli at 9:22 AM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


You're right, MR, especially if it's a small field and everyone knows everyone anyway. It would only work if you used initials instead of full name and only at the beginning. I'm not sure what other mechanism could be used to separate gender from performance, other than quotas/some kind of objective measurement of ability (maybe, number of publications in particular journals?). And maybe it's just too impossible and we will just have to struggle on fighting our biases directly.
posted by emjaybee at 9:23 AM on October 3, 2013


But if you know that women are being undervalued, then you must do something, because otherwise you will be losing people who are qualified

Most graduates can push forward in a particular field and make steady yet slow progress, particularly when given a good mentor, PI, or supervisor. Making big, exciting advances that are the product of a synthesis of disparate ideas from fields that weren't terribly porous with each other previously requires numbers. Large, large numbers of people who go through different styles of education and develop different ways of thinking while going about the observation and analysis is good but subtly changed ways so that one of them might put the pieces together AND have the wherewithal to act on the assembled puzzle.

I think of it like rolling a bunch of dice and waiting for one of them to roll onto a corner. If society isn't rolling all the dice that it can at any given time, then it shouldn't expect earth-shattering solutions to things like carbon capture, solar power, cancer treatments, treatments for senescence, drug delivery, understandings of the universe, and so on.
posted by Slackermagee at 9:29 AM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is the sciences, after all, surely we could come up with a way to isolate the problematic part to get cleaner results?

Certainly by removing people from the hiring process you would isolate the problem. The problem is the people.

Even if you were able to get "cleaner results" by hiring more women up front, you would likely be pushing the problem down the line by failing to retain women for 5-10 years and failing to on-boarding women that took leave for child bearing or other obligations.
posted by crazycanuck at 9:29 AM on October 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


The h-index is an attempt to quantify how influential someone's papers are.

Though maybe people are less likely to cite papers with female authors, too.
posted by squinty at 9:31 AM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Meg Urry: “Women need more positive reinforcement, and men need more negative reinforcement. Men wildly overestimate their learning abilities, their earning abilities. Women say, ‘Oh, I’m not good, I won’t earn much, whatever you want to give me is O.K.’ ”

This is 1000% on the mark in my experience. Socialization fails both, I think.
posted by bonehead at 9:33 AM on October 3, 2013 [16 favorites]


but we also have to recognize that it is the small things, it’s the climate, the way in which we treat women as human beings that makes the difference

Yes yes yes. Of course, the vast majority of people with more than a couple working neurons would be horrified at and object to the Big Things, the really obvious and obnoxious biases. I can't find it at the moment, but there was a link dropped in a thread in the last few months about a respected scientist at a good institution who wondered on his fb page why there were so many ugly women at a conference in his field, and why his field did not attract hot women. Of course shit like that is going to make people go "Oh that's just horrible" and it is.

Now imagine the daily life of his female (does he have any?) lab workers, post docs, students.
posted by rtha at 9:39 AM on October 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


I have the good fortune (some would say) to be an in-house lawyer handling intellectual property litigation for a very large company. In my role, I interview and hire law firms to represent us in patent litigation all the time, and so i see the end result of the convergence of two of the least diverse professions in the US: science and law. I routinely have law firms proposing teams of lawyers that are entirely made up of white male former engineers. Although we actively encourage law firms to propose more diverse teams, in many cases they just don't have the diversity to propose.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:42 AM on October 3, 2013


Because I have a huge grant due* very soon, I have only bookmarked the article but very much look forward to reading it.

clip it to the back of your grant proposal and ask for $4000 more.
posted by sexyrobot at 9:43 AM on October 3, 2013 [17 favorites]


Though maybe people are less likely to cite papers with female authors, too.

This is empirically true.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:02 AM on October 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


African-Americans succeeded earlier in sports than elsewhere because sports has exceedingly object hiring criteria, just how effectively you hit that ball. Academic hiring cannot be similarly reduced to simple paper counting because academics waste their time gaming the system then. Yes, eigenfactor does beat impact factor, but people game the journal acceptance process too.

Just making academia less competitive would go an incredibly long way to fixing the gender imbalance though. There are many prejudices against women that vanish whenever you start regarding the task as more normal and not exceptional, like say studying in school. Why should doing scientific research be regarded as exceptional in modern society? Just increase funding for academic STEM research, say by shaving a bit off the drug war or military, and limit grant overhead to 10%, so that university administration cannot suck it up. I assure you faculty will rapidly begin pushing absolutely everyone who seems sharp towards STEM fields.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:05 AM on October 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


So, we know scientists can't objectively judge between female and male candidates: is there any reason to think that they can objectively judge between male candidates?

In many ways, the sciences in the US work like a hereditary aristocracy which is self-perpetuating wrt which school you come from and who your advisor is etc. And who gets to be a scientist is front-loaded probably in middle school or early high school by lots of things that are somewhat tangential to the endeavor. It's easy to focus on sexism, but you could do a lot of good for womenjust by making the playing field more even for everyone regardless of background, both for students and young researchers.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:10 AM on October 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


When I was an assistant in academia, in a discipline that is not overwhelmingly male, there were boy labs, which might have had one or two female assistants every other year, and there were girl labs, which might have had a male assistant every once in a while. There were also large labs staffed by people of either gender, but the segregated labs were still kind of weird.
posted by Nomyte at 10:10 AM on October 3, 2013


You have a point, but this is a discussion about "Why there are still so few women in science." Lets continue to have that discussion, not the one you want, shall we?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:11 AM on October 3, 2013 [9 favorites]


Thanks for posting this; it's an important article. I love the picture, with Madame Curie wrapped in her coat, nearly lost in the group of men. I've worked in several fields, and politics and technology are very sexist, and utterly confident that they aren't. It's exhausting, and makes me want to go work at a Starbucks.
posted by theora55 at 10:13 AM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


A while back, the director of my lab told me how a decade ago he made a conscious decision to encourage women to get involved in his group, and he couldn't be happier with how it's paid off. The fact that we're a physics lab with over 50% women gives us a huge advantage getting top female grad students and post-docs, and hopefully soon faculty. He's happy about how it's turned out from a gender equality perspective, but there's this added bonus of essentially finding an inefficiency in the market and exploiting it to get the top research talent.

Also the parties are way more fun than when I was in an all-guy lab.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 10:14 AM on October 3, 2013 [14 favorites]


It's easy to focus on sexism, but you could do a lot of good for women just by making the playing field more even for everyone regardless of background

Yes, this is an important point — and it's important to realize that gender inequity can be hidden within or alongside other kinds of inequity. In the field where I know the gender-gap literature best (computer science) it's also been found that the structure of the curriculum makes a big difference, even when there's nothing obviously gendered about the curriculum or the way it's taught. Adding a true intro class that doesn't presume a preexisting "hidden curriculum," i.e. not assuming that students have somehow come pre-exposed to the basic concepts of the field by socialization, reduces the gender gap significantly.

Just making academia less competitive would go an incredibly long way to fixing the gender imbalance though.

And this too is right on the money. Just like PUA tactics don't work under social democracy, if everyone is on a more secure material footing and all of us are able to sustain ourselves without cutthroat competition, then it becomes far harder for the discriminatory culture to survive.
posted by RogerB at 10:20 AM on October 3, 2013 [9 favorites]


For those interested in a bit more depth and stats, Nature had a pretty good special issue in March on Women in Science. All the articles appear to be free at the moment (if not, I can supply copies to those interested).
posted by bonehead at 10:29 AM on October 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


I've seen some research on how the perception of talent can affect one's career choices. I never strongly considered a career in science because I had/have NO innate talent for it. When I took high school physics and pre-calculus, which I enjoyed, I would come home from school, study for hours, have dinner, study more, and go to bed. Maybe I didn't know how to study but I dropped physics halfway through the year with a 32%. I had been told that physics was hard but that was the first time I can think of where I tried really as much as I could and still failed. I didn't think that my classmates were that much smarter than me - why could they do well and I couldn't? It was incredibly stressful. Thinking about it now stresses me out.

Then there's math. Through grade school, when I applied myself, I did well in math. I studied over the summers between 7th and 8th grades so I could bump myself up to the next grade level in math. In 8th grade, I took freshman math. I had a teacher who made a big deal of everyone taking the state freshman math exam. She told us that all of us could get 100% and that should be our goal - if we ended up getting less than 100%, that was okay, but we should aim for 100%. I studied during lunch periods and after school and in my class of 19 students, I was 1 of the 10 who got a 100% on the exam. Years later, thinking about that makes me feel proud. I have never thought of myself as a smart person but that experience gave me hope that maybe I wasn't stupid. Science never gave me that feeling.

I have hope for young women studying science today because they are less likely to be the pioneers in the field, plus there are many researchers studying the best ways to teach science so hopefully, there will be fewer young women hunched over dinner tables, reading and re-reading their textbooks and notes and sobbing that the info in there just won't stick. Because I remember wanting and trying so hard to force a eureka moment in physics and it never came. And it just contributed to me feeling stupid and that science is for smart people, therefore science is not for me.
posted by kat518 at 10:30 AM on October 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


This post made me think of this recent AskMe. Losing this pervasive attitude that success in academia (and especially science) requires skill in "welcome to the thunderdome"-style argument and withstanding the belittlement of others would go a long way toward eliminating the gender gap. This is not to say that this attitude doesn't hurt men, too, but it's generally much more discouraging to women.
posted by dialetheia at 10:33 AM on October 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


I just want to say hell yes on calling out "The Big Bang Theory" for being a small but really blatant part of the problem.
posted by kiltedtaco at 10:37 AM on October 3, 2013 [11 favorites]


I've seen some research on how the perception of talent can affect one's career choices. I never strongly considered a career in science because I had/have NO innate talent for it.

the brother of a friend of mine chose between the science grad schools he was accepted into by the strength of their football team. by any standard he seemed to be good at solving the problems he was given but it was hard to say what, outside of football, actually interested him. anyway, he finished a PhD and is a professor somewhere, but I don't think he has contributed much.

talent in the sciences is overrated.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:38 AM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Even if you were able to get "cleaner results" by hiring more women up front, you would likely be pushing the problem down the line by failing to retain women for 5-10 years and failing to on-boarding women that took leave for child bearing or other obligations.
Yes -- I think this is a very important point -- it isn't just that a young woman is initially "downgraded" in the eyes of potential employers or departments -- she (presuming she has hopes of parenting at some point (of course not everyone does)) looks ahead and sees a culture that rewards the extremes of constant late nights programming or at the lab or in the field and realizes that she will need a wife HERSELF to handle the cooking/cleaning/parenting that wives traditionally do. And if she steps off the track for a few years, FSM help her.
posted by jfwlucy at 10:51 AM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


[Folks, quit making it personal]
posted by jessamyn at 10:54 AM on October 3, 2013


Michelle Francl, a professor at my alma mater, had an article in an earlier edition of Nature Chemistry along a similar vein.
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:08 AM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


while the one girl would be graded on the “girl curve”

Shouldn't a physics teacher have at least a rudimentary understanding of statistics?
posted by Slothrup at 11:09 AM on October 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


I've mentioned this before, but when my father was hiring for his research teams in the 80s and 90s (radiochemistry), if he was presented with equivalent resumes for male and female candidates, he would usually choose to hire the woman -- "because in this industry, a woman has to be smarter, more persistent, and work harder to have an equivalent resume to a man's, and I want the smarter, more persistent, harder-working candidate." This also had the unexpected effect of completely normalizing the idea of women in science for me; every time I'd visit him at work, his lab would be chock full of women! (I think he usually had about 1/3 female employees, so less than parity but definitely more than average.) Up until I was 14 or 15 and started taking advanced science classes at school, I truly, truly thought that there was no gender bias in science. Learning the truth was a shattering experience.
posted by KathrynT at 11:23 AM on October 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


Grad school is the period when most people get turned off research carreers, but women about twice as much so as men, according to a recent study in the UK (original work---PDF).
At the beginning of their studies, 72% of women express an intention to pursue careers as researchers, either in industry or academia. Among men, 61% express the same intention.

...the third year [graduating year in the UK system] numbers are alarming: 12% of the women and 21% of the men see academia as their preferred choice.
The report notes that female graduates see life as a (chemistry) researcher as: too all-consuming; too demanding of other aspects of their life, particularly relationships and family; too competititive for tenure and grants; too demanding of sacrifices (about femininity and motherhood); and have been advised in negative terms of the challenge they would face (by virtue of their gender).

These are the "obvious", potentially-fixable problems which were talked about a lot prior to the Handelsman study on gender preception. Many thought that while the problems were structural and difficult to tackle, they were fairly straightforward to understand. Solutions, while taking time and money to implement, e.g., improved day-care, quotas on grants for young women researchers, etc..., would be enough to solve these problems.

This NYT article and the Handelsman study make it clear that solutions to those "obvious" problems, while necessary, are not enough. They rub our noses in the fact that a large portion of the problem is internal, unexamined cultural bias, and that no, we can't overcome it just by solving the "easy" problems. Attitides have to change as well, in both men and women.

Further, as this comment makes clear, bias is not just a problem for older, established men, it's internalized by both genders, young and old alike. That's the shocking result from the Handelsman study, how pervasive and how deleterious bias is, even in female peer groups.
posted by bonehead at 11:24 AM on October 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'll take it a step further, RogerB, by claiming the Great Man Myth is so central to the patriarchy, that you severely hamstring yourself by trying to broaden it to a Great Person Myth. I suppose the greatness myth obstructs progress merely by virtue of being an big vague myth thing rather than small concrete facts. Weren't most successful historical feminists atheists too?

As an aside, those are hugh percentages to change their career path though, right bonehead. All those PhDs drop out because academic careers are enormously problematic now, like moving every few years for a decade, administration creating busy work for academics, etc. Of that 20% gender gap, women seemingly recognize these systemic problems younger. Is that because fewer faculty encourage them? Maybe, but anecdotally I've observed it being more than that.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:38 AM on October 3, 2013


jeffburdges, your last question is the important one. I think the research now supports the thesis that indeed it isn't just because fewer faculty encourge female grad students (the last finding in RSC, 2010).

Handelsman demonstrates that, even supposing equal opportunities, females face strong biases against their performance. The deck is stacked against them in terms of hiring and tenure review. All the mentoring and support in the world isn't going to change the harsher review (and consequent lower pay and reduced opportunities) female candidates must overcome, from both male and female peers.
posted by bonehead at 12:02 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nomyte: When I was an assistant in academia, in a discipline that is not overwhelmingly male, there were boy labs, which might have had one or two female assistants every other year, and there were girl labs, which might have had a male assistant every once in a while.

Are there also girl fields and boy fields in the scientists? I've noticed a pattern of this in philosophy citations and I'm wondering if it's true in other fields as well.

The top 500 most cited books/papers in 20th century analytic philosophy. The first thing to notice is that only 3.6% of them were written by women. Yikes. Now notice that of the fifteen women who make the list half are ethicists, with a significant subset working specifically in virtue ethics.

Virtue ethics is one of the few fields in philosophy where more than half of the big names are women. From our list, the discipline was founded by Anscombe and established by Foot. Korsgaard is not a virtue ethicist, but she's done some important work trying to bridge Aristotle and Kant. Nussbaum has done a lot of work on virtue though she's perhaps best known for other things. Don't get me wrong, there are some top flight male virtue ethicists (McDowell, Macintyre), but among the giants and the middleweights it's about a 60-40 split in favor of women. That's extremely rare in philosophy, almost unique.

Why virtue ethics? Most virtue ethics is neo-Aristotelian and Aristotle was amazingly sexist. A theory: a subdiscipline that was founded by women (Anscombe, Foot, Hursthouse) will be a field in which women's work will be treated with respect, or at least not subconsciously dismissed.

Is there a similar effect in the sciences as well?
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:04 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


physics/biology
posted by bonehead at 12:05 PM on October 3, 2013


Jesus Christ.

I graduated from an engineering university where the freshman classes were routinely over 50% female, and my closest study pals happened to be women.

I knew there was one old jackass rumored to downgrade women, but for the most part gender seemed completely irrelevant in my classes and peer interactions.

Every time I read one of these articles I'm shocked... perhaps mostly at how much more decent my alma mater was than most.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:30 PM on October 3, 2013


Just making academia less competitive would go an incredibly long way

It never fails to amaze me how almost all scientists, male and female, that I know will happily make their own working lives even more intolerable by assuming the "problem with academia" is an efficiency gap that needs plugging, and therefore devise ever more tortuous ways of wringing blood out of their own stones. I genuinely despair when I see altmetrics championed by people who in the same breath will complain about inequality in the tenure process - as though it's the measurement system rather than the imposition of measurement by a dysfunctional and disconnected management class within the university system that leads to the problem.

It's the absolute epitome of occupational psychosis.
posted by cromagnon at 1:34 PM on October 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


IAmBroom: I graduated from an engineering university where the freshman classes were routinely over 50% female

*blink* Was this in the US? Where was this?
posted by rmd1023 at 1:49 PM on October 3, 2013


I used to read these articles and get really angry, like, 'Hey! I'm a guy and I'm a physicist and I'm not a sexist!!" Then, I would invariably start to point out the various flaws and faults of the paper and why the results were not really relevant or that the study was rigged. Really, I was just insulted by what I felt was an attack on my profession, my peers, and ultimately, me personally.

Now, I'd like to think, my reaction has changed. Who cares if this is an attack on my peer group? Maybe it is. Maybe there are flaws in the study, maybe the author is asking for special pleading based on personal experience, or whatever. Ultimately, it just does not matter: the real problem is that there are not enough women in physics. We need more women in physics because we are systematically losing out on their contributions. Literally everything else is less of a problem than that (relatively speaking) and whether or not this or that particular article makes an airtight case for whatever it happens to claim, the basic facts are just undeniable and my (and my peer group's) personal feelings will just have to suffer the accusations until the problem is solved. Something has to be done.

Anyway, this was a very informative article and, of course, deeply disturbing. Great post.
posted by artichoke_enthusiast at 2:25 PM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wonder how much of the bias is gender vs. sex. My field is heavily male dominated, but even the women tend to be on the less-stereotypically-feminine end of the spectrum (and men with a strong feminine identity are almost entirely absent).

I noticed this bias myself when I had a student with very flowery handwriting about a decade ago- I definitely had to conciously remind myself that the content mattered more than the package. The student in question was male, but my mental association was definitely "feminine handwriting= glitzy, showy, not so smart". (The student was of course perfectly smart and did quite well in the class).
posted by nat at 2:30 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


IAmBroom: I graduated from an engineering university where the freshman classes were routinely over 50% female

*blink* Was this in the US? Where was this?


The class of 2014 at Harvey Mudd College started out with 52% women and 48% men, thanks to the incredible work of President Maria Klawe over the last few years. 10 or 15 years ago, the numbers were a lot more like 30% women, 70% men and 30 years ago it was more like 15% women and 85% men.
posted by artichoke_enthusiast at 2:37 PM on October 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


Maybe I didn't know how to study but I dropped physics halfway through the year with a 32%.

Not to co-opt your story, but I found it interesting how closely this mirrored the story of the article's author, right down to the exact grade - the only thing that kept her from making the same decision was a mentor who literally refused to sign her drop slip:
I knocked at my professor’s door and managed to stammer that I had gotten a 32 on the midterm and needed him to sign my drop slip.

“Why?” he asked. He received D’s in two of his physics courses. Not on the midterms — in the courses.
It really makes you wonder how many women are getting turned off of difficult STEM courses because they (and others) experience any initial failures as gendered instead of an intrinsic part of the normal struggle of mastering difficult material.

(Personally, I know I am still way more privileged than women in science - not just the implicit but the explicit anti-female sexism that continues has been totally shocking to me. But even I've found myself affected by the "gay men are supposed to excel in languages and the arts, and not math and science!" meme, and caught myself wondering whether the fact that I had trouble grasping something meant that I was just biologically predestined not to. Even though I don't actually believe that bullshit in the first place!)

This article is great, though, really a tour de force, and there's a lot to unpack here beyond this - the valorization of stereotypes about socially-broken scientists, the lack of a support structure and role models for women in STEM, explicit gender-based teasing...
posted by en forme de poire at 3:54 PM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


More incentive, if one is needed, to go to gender-blind resume screening or something, similar to orchestra auditions. It would be easy enough to assign code numbers to resumes instead of names and let them go through the initial review that way.

Midnight Rambler mentioned publications; letters of recommendation are hard to gender-blind, and a key part of a scientist's application.
posted by BrashTech at 3:55 PM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


> Virtue ethics is one of the few fields in philosophy where more than half of the big names are women.
> From our list, the discipline was founded by Anscombe and established by Foot

That's very interesting and I didn't know it. My earliest impression of G. E. M. Anscombe, from her introduction to the Philosophical Investigations and her translation of the Blue and Brown Books (both of which which I read without knowing that she was a woman) was "OK, Wittgenstein was a great deal smarter than me, but that goes without saying. Now here is yet another person who is a great deal smarter than me."
posted by jfuller at 4:04 PM on October 3, 2013


BrashTech, even if you could strip out all gender-related references from a letter of recommendation without too much effort, there was a study that showed that the adjectives applied to different scientists varied dramatically between the sexes in a way that appeared to be in line with so-called "benevolent" sexism (e.g. valuing women more for being personable and men more for being intellectually rigorous). Turtles all the way down.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:20 PM on October 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


(P.S., thanks to Bonehead for linking to that term in the last women-in-academia thread.)
posted by en forme de poire at 5:21 PM on October 3, 2013


The class of 2014 at Harvey Mudd College started out with 52% women and 48% men

Olin College of Engineering is approaching 50/50 as well. They have a small student body so it varies year to year but class of 2013 was 46 women and 40 men. class of 2014 was 40 women and 52 men.
posted by jessamyn at 6:46 PM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Although two of the scientists on the show are women,

Clearly needs more television time. (Another Yalie, as it happens.)
posted by IndigoJones at 7:12 PM on October 3, 2013


As a woman in academia, I honestly can't even bring myself to read this article. Just reading ABOUT it makes me want to cry and give up. Most days I feel like I will never have a chance of getting a continuing job, just because of the inherent problems in the academic system (being married to a fellow academic makes the expectation of moving every couple of years to wherever the next postdoc is extremely problematic, to say the least). When you add systematic gender biases to that, I just...
posted by lollusc at 7:55 PM on October 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


Actually one positive thing is that the Australian Research Council (like the Australian version of the NSF) has for the past couple of years finally succeeded in having an equal success rate for men's and women's grant applications. They deliberately changed their application format in several ways to try to improve this, and it worked! They added, for example, a section to the application form BEFORE the traditional "track record" section where the candidate can spell out career interruptions since their PhD, percent of time spent employed in research jobs, their job's expectations for time spent on research/teaching/admin, and any other relevant factors that might affect their research productivity. The applicant gets to create a narrative that points out any disadvantages they might have had (often due to gender, but also e.g. disability, family circumstances, etc), and the reviewer sees it before they even start reading the researcher's CV. It means that reviewers presumably are extra impressed by women's CVs when said woman also had carer responsibilities for children, parents, and/or had time off for maternity, lack of proper research jobs, etc.

My own experience has been that I get really good reviews of my track record in the grant application process (reviewers always note something like, "It is extremely impressive that Lollusc has been so productive despite not having had a research job, and having to follow her husband for his career.") And I've been successful with grant applications. What bums me out is things like when my head of department says at a meeting that "success in national grants shows that a researcher has been judged to be top quality by his or her peers, so we have to respect that and find ways to put these people on continuing contracts", and then he does that for the men in the department who were successful in grants, but not for me. (The supposed reason is that the men this happened to were all successful in years when the department had enough money to employ new people, but my (two) successes both happened to fall in years when we were less flush.)
posted by lollusc at 8:06 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


The article doesn't even go far enough. My own career is filled with examples, but one of the worst was the interactions I had with labs who routinely left women off all group publications. I could say more, but the thought of typing it here just depresses me and I don't particularly want to wreck my day.

The point is that women in science have it just as hard as ever. I'm just trying my best to contribute to incremental cultural change so the younger women coming up through the ranks have it just a bit better than I have.
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 8:10 PM on October 3, 2013


This is what stands out to me in this article:

"Women need more positive reinforcement, and men need more negative reinforcement. Men wildly overestimate their learning abilities, their earning abilities. Women say, ‘Oh, I’m not good, I won’t earn much, whatever you want to give me is O.K.’ ”

"One student told Urry she doubted that she was good enough for grad school, and Urry asked why — the student had earned nearly all A’s at Yale, which has one of the most rigorous physics programs in the country. “A woman like that didn’t think she was qualified, whereas I’ve written lots of letters for men with B averages.”


It must be lovely to be able to go around the world confident, secure in yourself and your smarts, and knowing that the entire world will give you whatever you want instead of smacking you down with anvils to the face.

Women are never perfect enough, and we're always told that we're inadequate, stupid, and need to get back to the kitchen even if we're summa cum laude at Yale. What the fuck, world? Is there anything we can do to be "good enough," or are we just awful by default? Does that come with the uterus?
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:15 PM on October 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think that frequently, when women fail at something, they say, it must be because I'm not good at that thing, whereas men are more likely to brush it off. My sister is very good at science but when she was a bio major in college and struggled with organic chemistry, it was a blow to her confidence. I don't think she internalized the idea that many smart people struggle with that class but instead thought that her struggle meant maybe she wasn't cut out for it.

I think there is a perception, possibly cultural, that talent and intelligence is innate and you either have it or you don't. And since women already absorb the message that ladies and science don't mesh, we're less likely to believe that we have that capacity.

Basically, there's a harmful myth that if you're talented, you don't have to work hard and hard work is for people who are untalented. So when it comes to women in science, women get messages from society that science is not for women, then when women attempt to challenge that idea and struggle, it becomes easier to say, I am struggling because I'm just not cut out for this.

I'm having a hard time articulating though so I hope that makes sense.
posted by kat518 at 9:25 PM on October 3, 2013 [12 favorites]


‘Oh, I’m not good, I won’t earn much, whatever you want to give me is O.K.’

This line jumped out at me too because I heard it almost word for word last week.

We're in the middle of hiring a new researcher. She's smart, driven, a prolific writer, and frankly, we're lucky to be getting her. She's a former post-doc and I'm delighted we were able to put the funding package together to make it work. However, she's weakest in her public speaking (we're working on it; it's all confidence) and felt that she didn't do well in the interview (the board loved her). When it came time to discuss salary and terms... yeah.

I really, really don't want half of the new crop of BScs to feel this way too.
posted by bonehead at 10:59 PM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


When it came time to discuss salary and terms... yeah.

Wasn't there a study before that showed women who assertively negotiated for better pay and benefits were viewed negatively, even if they were doing the same thing a man would do in the same position? She may have had some bad experiences before with trying to be more assertive when negotiating?
posted by Alnedra at 12:31 AM on October 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


Surprisingly, female scientists were as biased as their male counterparts.

I, for one, am as unsurprised by this aspect of the result as I would be had the survey been about public attitudes toward the blueness of the sky or the wetness of water.

The patriarchy is the manifestation of a system of generally held beliefs and attitudes. This is why people who dismiss criticism of the patriarchy as if it were criticism of men are missing a valuable opportunity to understand the way the world works.
posted by flabdablet at 4:57 AM on October 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


Alnedra: I'm sure you are correct. There were additional cultural factors too though.
posted by bonehead at 5:18 AM on October 4, 2013


My favorite quote, and one that resonated very strongly with my two decade long career in physics & engineering:

Four young women — one black, two white, one Asian by way of Australia — explained to me how they had made it so far when so many other women had given up.

“Oh, that’s easy,” one of them said. “We’re the women who don’t give a crap.”


Unfortunately, that "fuck-you-and-the-horse-you-rode-in-on" mentality doesn't come easily to most. It shouldn't need to. I developed that attitude early on to compete with the boys -- as early as middle school, now that I think about it.
posted by pointless_incessant_barking at 7:22 AM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


rmd1023: "IAmBroom: I graduated from an engineering university where the freshman classes were routinely over 50% female

*blink* Was this in the US? Where was this?
"

University of Missouri-Rolla.

My college had a huge drop-out rate for women. I attributed it to the intense social pressures on 18yo women entering a mostly-male school (due to the disproportionate drop-out rate).

It's possible the frosh stat was false. I never checked it. But there was a huge and noticeable downturn in the female/male ratio from the only freshman class I attended there (I was a transfer student, but missed one core frosh class) to my upper-level classes.

And it's possible the drop-out rate was primarily bigotry-related. However, with the except I mentioned, I never saw nor heard of any discrimination from the students. We were all in it together, trying to survive engineering school.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:24 AM on October 4, 2013


Kat518, I think you nailed it.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:16 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Er, not that that's the only obstacle or anything, but it's a great description of one I think is underappreciated.)
posted by en forme de poire at 9:17 AM on October 4, 2013


< em>She may have had some bad experiences before with trying to be more assertive when negotiating?

If she was straight out of science as a postdoc, I doubt she's ever negotiated a salary or terms before at all. They're usually constrained by the grant paying for the work.
posted by cromagnon at 10:56 PM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


And it's possible the drop-out rate was primarily bigotry-related. However, with the except I mentioned, I never saw nor heard of any discrimination from the students. We were all in it together, trying to survive engineering school.
posted by IAmBroom


I think if you contacted some of the women who dropped out, and asked about this, it might be very eye-opening.
posted by cairdeas at 4:13 PM on October 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


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