"Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in
Academic Science and Engineering," the new report by a committee
of the National Academies, addresses the status of women in academe
and barriers to their advancement to the highest levels of employment
and leadership. "Women are capable of contributing more to the
nation's science and engineering research enterprise, but bias and outmoded
practices governing academic success impede their progress almost every
step of the way," said committee chair Donna Shalala, president
of the University of Miami and former Secretary of Health and Human
Services, according to a National Academies press release. She added,
"Fundamental changes in the culture and opportunities at America's
research universities are urgently needed. The United States should
enhance its talent pool by making the most of its entire population."
highlighted the breadth of the report and FYI
#119 summarized its findings and recommendations. The report
also cites, and refutes, a number of "commonly held beliefs"
regarding why more women do not advance higher in academic science and
engineering, as follows:
Evidence Refuting Commonly Held Beliefs About Women in Science and
1. "Women are not as good in mathematics as men."
The committee reports that "female performance in high school mathematics
now matches that of males."
2. "The matter of underrepresentation' on faculties is
only a matter of time; it is a function of how many women are qualified
to enter these positions." The report finds that "women's
representation decreases with each step" up the academic ladder,
"even in fields that have had a large proportion of women doctorates
for 30 years."
3. "Women are not as competitive as men. Women don't want jobs
in academe." According to the report, "similar proportions"
of men and women S&E doctorates plan to go on to postdoctoral positions
or academic employment.
4. "Behavioral research is qualitative; why pay attention to
the data in this report?" The committee finds that such data
come from multiple sources, using well-recognized techniques, and have
been replicated in different settings.
5. "Women and minorities are recipients of favoritism through
affirmative-action programs." The report states that affirmative
action is intended to "broaden searches" but not to "select
candidates on the basis of race or sex."
6. "Academe is a meritocracy." The committee finds
that evaluation and advancement decisions are "influenced by factors...that
have nothing to do with the quality of the person or work being evaluated."
7. "Changing the rules means that standards of excellence will
be deleteriously affected." The committee states that the current
system of evaluation and advancement "does not optimally select
and advance the best scientists and engineers, because of implicit bias
and disproportionate weighting of qualities that are stereotypically
8. "Women faculty are less productive than men." The
report finds that "the publication productivity of women"
in S&E fields "is now comparable to men's."
9. "Women are more interested in family than in careers."
According to the report, many women's persistence in science and engineering
"despite severe conflicts" with family responsibilities represents
a "high level of dedication" to their careers but is not often
recognized as such.
10. "Women take more time off due to childbearing, so they
are a bad investment." While women may take more time off for
such reasons early in their career, the report points out that "over
a lifetime career, a man is likely to take significantly more sick leave
than a woman."
11. "The system as currently configured has worked well in
producing great science; why change it?" Pointing to shifting
trends in the "global competitive balance," the committee
declares that "Career impediments based on gender or racial or
ethnic bias deprive the nation of talented and accomplished researchers."
A prepublication copy of the report can be purchased from the National
Academies Press for $57.95 plus shipping and handling by calling 1-800-624-6242
or online at http://www.nap.edu. Additionally,
a PDF version of the prepublication version of the report can be purchased
for $15, or individual chapters can be purchased for $2.50 each.