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Bias against women in science gains national attention
Bias against women in science gains national attentionAugust 31, 2005Kelly Homan Rodoskikahoman@syr.edu
Despite gains in the training of women scientists and the implementation of programs to help women overcome ingrained barriers, the career path of most women scientists at universities remains a difficult trek, fraught with roadblocks of bias, a sometimes chilly campus climate and the challenge of balancing family and work.
That, in short, is the conclusion of a group of prominent women scientists and administrators, including Syracuse University Chancellor and President Nancy Cantor, in an analysis of the issue in the Aug. 19 issue of Science magazine (http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/309/5738/1190, registration required.) The paper was featured in a report on National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation program on Aug. 26, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4817270.
“The good news is we’ve made progress,” says Jo Handelsman, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the lead author of the Science paper. “The bad news is we still have a long way to go to achieve equity.”
Writing in Science, Handelsman, Cantor and their co-authors-including the chancellor of the University of California at Santa Cruz, the president of Miami University and the provost of the University of California at Davis-detail the subtle and sometimes overt challenges that frequently derail the career aspirations of many female scientists in academia.
The issue, according to the new analysis in Science, has little to do with the ability of women to succeed on the academic science career track and more to do with the cumulative effects of bias and a campus climate that undervalues women’s contributions and potential.
On campus, according to the new analysis, there are four broad challenges that women encounter as they seek tenured faculty positions and opportunities to advance to senior faculty and administrative positions:
- The pipeline: In some fields, notably engineering and the physical sciences, fewer women are trained to the Ph.D. level and encouraged to pursue academic careers. In the biological sciences, where more women are trained, the percentage of assistant, associate and full professors who are women is inconsistent with the percentage of women obtaining doctorates.
- Climate: “Many women attribute their exit from the academy to hostility from colleagues and a chilly campus climate,” the authors of the new analysis write. This atmosphere is invisible to many men, who tend to perceive a better climate for women as reported in faculty surveys conducted at MIT, Princeton, and the universities of Michigan and Wisconsin.
- Unconscious bias: Even individuals who believe they are not biased may “unconsciously or inadvertently behave in discriminatory ways.”
- Balancing family and work: “The responsibilities for family caretaking (for children and aging parents) continue to fall disproportionately on women.”
The analysis concludes that while significant issues remain to balance the gender equation at universities, there is evidence the climate is shifting. New programs have come into play aimed at leveling the academic science playing field.
In addition to Handelsman and Cantor, authors of the Science paper include Barbara Grosz, Higgins Professor of Natural Sciences at Harvard University; Molly Carnes, a UW-Madison Medical School professor and co-director of the Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute; Denice Denton, chancellor of the University of California at Santa Cruz; Eve Fine of the Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute; Virginia Hinshaw, provost and executive vice chancellor at the University of California at Davis; Cora Marrett, senior vice president of the University of Wisconsin System; Sue Rosser, dean of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts at the Georgia Institute of Technology; Donna Shalala, president of the University of Miami; and Jennifer Sheridan of the Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute at UW-Madison.