NY Times on women and science

After the discussion here and elsewhere in yonder blogosphere about women and stereotyping, Cornelia Dean in the New York Times writes about recent meeting aimed at helping women advance in science, where bias still rages.

This fall, female scientists at Rice University here gathered promising women who are graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to help them learn skills that they will need to deal with the perils of job hunting, promotion and tenure in high-stakes academic science.

“The reality is there are barriers that women face,” said Kathleen S. Matthews, the dean of natural sciences at Rice, who spoke at the meeting’s opening dinner. “There are circles and communities of engagement where women are by and large not included.”

Instead, they talk about what they have to know and do to get ahead. They talk about unspoken, even unconscious sexism that means they must be better than men to be thought as good — that they must, as one Rice participant put it, literally and figuratively wear a suit and heels, while men can relax in jeans.

They muse on the importance of mentoring and other professional support and talk about ways women can provide it for each other if they do not receive it from their professors or advisers.

And they obsess about what they call “the two body problem,” the extreme difficulty of reconciling a demanding career in science with marriage and a family — especially, as is more often the case for women than men in science, when the spouse also has scientific ambitions.


I discussed some of these statistics previously here, and the latter stat is one that really stood out for me: just how many women versus men who have to deal with having a spouse in an academic or other demanding careers (or who are employed full-time, period).

Another part of the article gets more to what I and others were trying to get at (and what razib and colleagues at gnxp.com still don’t seem to get):

Even today, Dr. Heilman said, the idea that women are somehow unsuited to science is widespread and tenacious. Because people judge others in terms of these unconscious prejudices, she said, the same behavior that would suggest a man is collaborative, judicious or flexible would mark a woman as needy, timid or flighty.

And because science is still widely viewed as “a male arena,” she said, a woman who succeeds may be viewed as “selfish, manipulative, bitter, untrustworthy, conniving and cold.”

“Women in science are in a double bind,” Dr. Heilman said. “When not clearly successful, they are presumed to be incompetent. When they are successful, they are not liked.”

As Janet mentioned (not talking about this issue specifically, but it still fits): this crap gets tiresome. It’s difficult to always be up against this unconscious bias, and that’s why it ticks us off when we see it in other areas as well. It’s prevalent, and it’s not easy to overcome:

Dr. Steitz cited a study of letters of recommendation written for men and women seeking academic appointments. Though all the applicants were successful, she said, and though the letters were written by men and women, the study found that the applicant’s personal life was mentioned six times more often if the letter was about a woman.

Also, Dr. Steitz said, “For women, the things that were talked about more frequently were how well they were trained, what good teachers they were and how well their applications were put together.” When the subject of the letter was male, she said, the big topics were research skills and success in the lab.

***

Dr. Woods, an administrator in the College of Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, reminded the young women of research in which academics were asked to judge the otherwise identical résumés of people who were identified as Ken, Karen or K.

In these studies, she said, Ken consistently comes out on top.

And unfortunately, even the advice given to women isn’t proven or consistent–when is the best time to start a family? to tell a search committee about a spouse who also needs a job? There’s still a lot of flying blind here, and though they do note in the article that things *have* improved, we’ve still got a long way to go.

Comments

  1. #1 Kristjan Wager
    December 20, 2006

    Dr. Woods, an administrator in the College of Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, reminded the young women of research in which academics were asked to judge the otherwise identical résumés of people who were identified as Ken, Karen or K.

    In these studies, she said, Ken consistently comes out on top.

    What is also important to remember about these studies, is that the result is the same, regardless of the gender of the academics, so it’s not a genderspecific bias. This shows that, at root, there is a cultural bias, that needs to be changed.

    I hope that meetings such as this one will help advance the change, but I fear that it won’t help, until there is a change in the genderbased stereotypes (women are crative, men are scientific), which children get exposed to from a young age.

  2. #2 carlman23
    December 20, 2006

    Speaking as a male graduate student, I’m appalled by how many instances of gender stereotyping I’ve seen. From differential treatment of students to lack of female representation on faculty search committees. It’s obvious that there’s still bias operating within the system (cripes when the President of Harvard thinks he can get away with saying that women are biologically predisposed away from natural sciences, you know we’ve still got a way to go). I recommend reading anything by Ruth Hubbard or R.C. Lewontin on the subject. They give a good ‘scientists perspective’ on issues involving the (perceived) gender gap.

  3. #3 p-ter
    December 20, 2006

    Another part of the article gets more to what I and others were trying to get at (and what razib and colleagues at gnxp.com still don’t seem to get

    this is an entirely different issue. are attractive women underrepresented among science fiction readers? the post you link to claims yes, and presents some studies to show that. people were claiming it *hurts people* to make this observation. we, obviously, disagree.

    re: women in science. we already agree that women are underrepresented in science (does it hurt people that you make this observation?). the debate is about why that is so. you presented some data a while ago showing that women drop out of science more, possibly due to pressure to have a family. there’s some evidence to back this up:
    http://www.nber.org/~sewp/Ginther_Kahn_revised8-06.pdf

    cripes when the President of Harvard thinks he can get away with saying that women are biologically predisposed away from natural sciences, you know we’ve still got a way to go).

    honestly, read what he said:
    http://www.president.harvard.edu/speeches/2005/nber.html

  4. #4 Arun Chandrashekar
    December 20, 2006

    I would sure agree that science is biased towards women in the U.S. and elsewhere in the west There are surely more women technicans than they are men while ther are far fewer women scientits. I have known very bright women not being given faculty positions because they spent some time looking after their children. But what about even men scientist from third world countries and so on. There is is another bias that come in. That of Race. How can some one from India do good Science! Indians and Chinese in the U.S. are tolerated because they make good Post Docs.

  5. #5 Arun Chandrashekar
    December 20, 2006

    I would sure agree that science is biased towards women in the U.S. and elsewhere in the west There are surely more women technicans than they are men while ther are far fewer women scientists. I have known very bright women not being given faculty positions because they spent some time looking after their children. But what about even men scientista from third world countries . There is is another bias that come in. That of Race. How can some one from India do good Science! Indians and Chinese in the U.S. are tolerated because they make good Post Docs. I would think that bias is part of science as it is carried everywhere.

  6. #6 Rich
    December 20, 2006

    I’d be quite interested in seeing statistics on the gender breakdown of workers in closely related fields. Over the last few years I’ve helped recruit several systems engineers and software developers and it’s striking that we get a higher percentage of female applicants for development positions than we do for the system and network engineering ones (around two in ten for the former and around one in fifty for the latter in the most recent cases). I can’t think offhand why this would be the case, so perhaps it’s just a fluctuation, but if not there might be something interesting going on.

    (Maybe it’s got something to do with the higher level of academic attainment needed to become a developer: perhaps the stereotyping of computers as a “boy” thing is filtering out the less determined girls early, so that although fewer women end up as computer professionals the ones who do are skewed towards the more highly qualified end of the spectrum.)

  7. #7 p-ter
    December 20, 2006

    Another part of the article gets more to what I and others were trying to get at (and what razib and colleagues at gnxp.com still don’t seem to get)

    a previous comment probably got marked as spam, so I’ll try to respond sans links.

    1. these are two different issues. we presented evidence that women are underrepresented among consumers of science fiction. some at scienceblogs said we were causing harm to people by noting this.

    2. we both agree that women are underrepresented in certain sectors of science (of course, apparently pointing *this* out doesn’t cause anyone harm). the disagreement is as to why this is. there is certainly evidence (including evidence that you have presented before, tara) that women drop out of science earlier, possibily due to the pressure/desire to have a familiy. one of the links in my previous post supports that. larry summers’, whose speech I also linked to, also considers that the most important reason for the gender disparity.

    Dr. Steitz cited a study of letters of recommendation written for men and women seeking academic appointments. Though all the applicants were successful, she said, and though the letters were written by men and women, the study found that the applicant’s personal life was mentioned six times more often if the letter was about a woman.

    women and men (on average) act differently, they look differently, they talk about different things (maybe the women talked six times more about their personal life to their recommender), they have (on average) different priorities. Of course different things are noticed about them. To conclude that these perceptions are holding people back, you’d have to show that people with attributes associated with women are less likely to get jobs. based on this little snippet, that’s not the case. all the applicants (men and women) were successful!

  8. #8 Tara C. Smith
    December 20, 2006

    Test

  9. #9 J-Dog
    December 20, 2006

    The link from clicking on your name above is very “intersting”, in light of all the recent blogs about women in science – I suspect a malicious hacker! But it IS a nice picture, and I for one, would be motivated to discuss science all night long with her.

  10. #10 Tara C. Smith
    December 20, 2006

    Weird, don’t know how that got added as my home page. Changed it…

  11. #11 Lab Lemming
    December 21, 2006

    I seem to recall that Dr. Shellie went to that conference, but searching her archives, I can’t seem to find the reference. So, I might have the wrong blogger, but I’m pretty sure that one of the feminist physical science bloggers was there…

  12. #12 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    December 25, 2006

    One of the statements in the article that you quoted is interesting to me: the one about women needing to “wear a suit” while men can dress in jeans.

    The reason that it caught my interest is because where I work, it’s actually the *opposite*. When someone sees a man in the hallway dressed in suit and tie, people who don’t know him will almost always assume he’s a researcher. But when they see a woman dressed in fancy clothes, people who don’t know her will nearly always assume that she’s a secretary. On the other hand, a woman dressed in jeans and a t-shirt will always be recognized as a researcher.

    I wonder if this is specific to my lab, or if it’s more generally true about research labs versus more traditional
    business offices?

  13. #13 muhabbet
    March 26, 2009

    thanks..

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