A comprehensive new report by a committee of the National Academies,
highlighted in FYI
#118, finds that women "continue to face impediments to
academic careers that do not confront men of comparable ability and
training." The report, entitled "Beyond Bias and Barriers:
Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering,"
includes eight findings and a series of recommendations targeted at
university leaders, department heads and faculty, professional and honorary
societies, educational organizations, federal R&D funding agencies,
and Congress. Those findings and recommendations are summarized below:
1. "Women have the ability and drive to succeed in science
and engineering" (S&E). The report highlights studies
of brain structure, hormonal effects on performance, cognitive development
and evolution that "have not found any significant biological differences"
between men and women "that can account for the lower representation
of women in academic faculty and scientific leadership positions"
2. "Women who are interested in [S&E] careers are lost
at every educational transition." The committee reviewed
data showing that women are lost with "each step up the academic
3. "The problem is not simply the pipeline."
Even in S&E fields in which the percentage of women PhDs is relatively
high, the committee found that those percentages are not reflected in
the numbers of women full professors at top research institutions.
4. "Women are very likely to face discrimination in every
field of science and engineering." The report notes that
the environment in academic science and engineering has many aspects
"that favor - sometimes deliberately but often inadvertently -
the men who have traditionally dominated" S&E.
5. "A substantial body of evidence establishes that most
people - men and women - hold implicit biases." The committee
reviewed cognitive psychology research indicating that in general, "people
are less likely to hire a woman than a man with identical qualifications,
are less likely to ascribe credit to a woman than to a man for identical
accomplishments, and...will far more often give the benefit of the doubt
to a man than to a woman."
6. "Evaluation criteria contain arbitrary and subjective
components that disadvantage women." According to the report,
the supposedly "meritocratic" measures of success in academe
are often arbitrary and biased against women.
7. "Academic organizational structures and rules contribute
significantly to the underuse of women in academic science and engineering."
The report says, "Rules that appear quite neutral may function
in a way that leads to differential treatment or produces differential
outcomes for men and women."
8. "The consequences of not acting will be detrimental to
the nation's competitiveness." The committee believes that
the academic S&E community must find ways to "capture and capitalize
on" the increasing numbers of women and minorities in the labor
A. UNIVERSITIES: The committee calls on leaders in academe
to take action to change "the culture and structure of their institutions"
by addressing existing inequities; including the elimination of gender
bias in institutional strategic plans; offering leadership workshops
that include diversity components; holding departments accountable for
fair, broad and aggressive search processes and outcomes; and implementing
policies that provide "the flexibility that faculty need across
the life course, allowing integration of family, work, and community
The committee recommends that deans, department heads and tenured faculty
initiate faculty discussions of "climate issues"; educate
faculty members and students on "unexamined bias and effective
evaluation"; ensure that faculty recruitment efforts reach out
to women candidates; and review tenure processes and timelines "to
ensure that hiring, tenure, and promotion policies take into account
the flexibility that faculty need across the life course."
Together, university leaders, department chairs and faculty should
"examine evaluation practices to focus on the quality of contributions
and their impact."
B. PROFESSIONAL SOCIETIES AND HIGHER EDUCATION ORGANIZATIONS:
The committee proposes that higher education organizations should work
together to form "an inter-institution monitoring organization"
to collect data; recommend "norms and measures"; and track
compliance and accountability; with a particular emphasis on "defining
the scope and structure of data collection."
The committee calls on scientific and professional societies to assist
in setting professional and equity standards; collect and disseminate
data; provide professional development training that addresses evaluation
bias; develop guidelines to ensure diversity of invited speakers at
society events; ensure "reasonable representation of women on editorial
boards and in other significant leadership positions"; nominate
women for awards and leadership positions; and "provide child-care
and elder-care grants or subsidies so that their members can attend
work-related conferences and meetings."
The report encourages honorary societies to "review their nomination
and election processes" and journals to "examine their entire
review process...and take steps to minimize gender bias, such as blinded
C. FEDERAL FUNDING AGENCIES AND FOUNDATIONS: The committee
calls on federal research funding agencies to provide workshops on gender
bias; collect and publish demographic information on funding applications
and outcomes; enable grant recipients to "use grant monies for
dependent care expenses necessary to engage in off-site or after-hours"
activities, conferences and meetings; create funding mechanisms that
allow for technical or administrative support during a caregiving-related
leave of absence; and expand support for research on bias, prejudice,
and attempts to reduce gender bias.
D. FEDERAL AGENCIES: The committee urges federal agencies to
set clear guidelines and leverage resources "to increase the science
and engineering talent developed' in the U.S.; "move immediately
to enforce the federal anti-discrimination laws"; and ensure universities
have not engaged in illegal discrimination. It calls on federal enforcement
agencies to "encourage and provide technical assistance on how
to achieve diversity in university programs and employment."
E. CONGRESS: The committee recommends that Congress hold
regular oversight hearings and take other necessary steps "to encourage
adequate enforcement of antidiscrimination laws."