WOMEN IN SCIENCE WHERE ARE WE NOW?
Vice President and Director, CH2M HILL, and President, Association
of Women in Science
I graduated with my Ph.D. from Bryn Mawr with Dr. George Zimmerman,
in 1965. I would like to give you a picture of what it was
like to write a thesis in 1965. There werent any computers.
At least the computers that we had were extremely large and
unwieldy and not something that you could carry around. So
my entire thesis was first handwritten by me and then typed
by my long-suffering mother-in-law. Every page had to be typed
with carbon paper and if you made a mistake you had to go
back and try to white it out or otherwise correct the mistake.
All the graphics were hand-drawn by me, and you can imagine
what they looked like.
I would like
to contrast for you what it would be like to write a thesis
today. Today you have a computer. Probably many of you have
your own personal laptops or other computers. You have programs
that allow you to generate graphics easily. It is very simple
to correct or change a word today. Think about the difference
between 1965 and now just in that level of technology alone.
I would now like
you to think about the position of women in science, engineering
and technology then and now. In 1965 there were not that
many women going into the field that I was in physical
chemistry and, in particular, quantum mechanics. It is not
that much different now. There were few women in the field
in 1965 and there are still few women in the field. I work
in industry. I work for heavy industry, high-tech industry,
and I work in engineering. And I can tell you that there
are still very few women in these fields. Women constitute
45 percent of the workforce in America but only 12 percent
in science and engineering jobs in business and industry.
That is a disgrace.
I would submit
that we must do something to make that change. I am not
going to give you a lot of statistics about industry or
business, nor about academia, which I would submit is really
no better than industry. In fact in some ways, academia
is worse than industry in terms of promoting women to the
top that is, to full professor. Less than 10 percent
of full professors in the sciences today are women. But
women have consistently been earning more than a quarter
of the Ph.D.s in science for 30 years. Why do we still have
only 10 percent of full professors who are women?
It is a real
problem that is facing us and I, coming from industry, can
tell you that industry is dying to find good women and minorities.
Many industries have learned that diversity is critical
to their success and their competitiveness. This is not
just, "its the right thing to do." It is
a bottom-line issue. In my firm, which is a large-scale
$2 billion-a-year company with 140 offices around the world,
if we cannot field a team of people to go talk to a client
who can think like that client, look like that client and
act like that client, we do not get the work. We have lost
jobs because we were not diverse enough. And I do not mean
just diversity in gender or race, but in thought process,
in understanding of cultures, in all of the ways that you
can think of diversity. It is a bottom-line issue for industry.
If we educated and had been continuing in science and engineering
the women and minorities who could potentially be doing
it, we would not have a workforce shortage in this country
The first National
Science Foundation statistical report on women in engineering,
science and technology came out in 1982. So we have been
recognizing and studying this problem for 20 years. It still
is not solved. It still is not changing as rapidly as it
needs to change. I am so glad to see all of you here because
I think it is very exciting. Hopefully we will be able to
come up with some good solutions that we can all begin to
I want to just
make a pitch for the report of the Congressional Commission
on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering
and Technology (Land of Plenty, 2000). This report
focuses on four times in life when we lose women and minorities
to the fields of science and engineering. The first is entry
to middle school, the second is in late high school, the third
is in college and graduate school, and the fourth, I am sorry
to say, is in professional life, where women still do not
advance in proportion to their education. The Commission had
a few recommendations, one of which I will talk about tomorrow
after Connie Morella speaks.
We had only a few
recommendations because we wanted to try to get them implemented
and not have them lost in a morass of 50 or 60 recommendations.
So we only have about six or seven recommendations and there
is, I am happy to say, a program to implement these going
on right now, which I will tell you about tomorrow. I also
want to recommend the recent report called Balancing the
Equation, Where are Women and Girls in Science, Engineering
and Technology? done by the National Council for Research
on Women (2001).
I really encourage
you all to participate actively in the workshops and try to
think when you are doing it about what you can do that will
actively help to make change for girls and women in science,
mathematics, engineering, and technology.
Executive Director, Association of Women in Science
were talking about today is where women are now in science,
technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. And
I think we must consider the role that women have in science
and technology, and the consequences of that role in terms
of what happens to this nation and to the world. I feel very
strongly that we have to look at what we can do to integrate
more women more fully into the seats of power, not only in
science, but in policy as well. The panel will also try to
look at where are we going. What is progress for women in
science and technology?
Director of New Business Development, Adhesives and Sealants,
Rohm and Haas
I guess there are two ways to look at Sue Grahams
career. You can either say I have really progressed and
moved on to other things, or you could say I cannot hold
a job. I will leave that discussion up to you. I have a
Ph.D. in high-vacuum surface physics and thought when I
left the University of Pittsburgh that what I wanted to
do was be in the lab the rest of my life. I was good at
that and I really enjoyed it, but I went into industry and
found out that what I really liked was being with people.
So I did some other things, spent time in sales, ended up
running a business, and now, as of a year ago, do mergers
and acquisitions and portfolio management for our adhesives
and sealants business which I knew nothing about
a year ago. The reason I tell you all of that is I think
it is really important that educators tell people to figure
out what they like I personally like to be on the
steep part of the learning curve and then go do what
you like. If it happens to be in science and mathematics,
so much the better.
The other thing
is we must tell people to surround themselves with friends
and family that are supportive of their pursuit of what
they love. In this multiple career that I have created,
I have lived in Columbus, Ohio; Fairfield, Connecticut;
Bridgewater, New Jersey; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Raleigh/Durham,
North Carolina; and now downtown Philadelphia. But I have
been married to the same man all that time, who has had
the same job. He covers the entire East Coast for a large
chemical company, so we have been I have been
very fortunate to be able to move around and do different
things. But you have got to have people around you who are
flexible and supportive.
Thank you Susan. I think one of the questions well
have to raise later is what are some of the safe environments
in which you can figure out what you like to do. Particularly
for graduate students, theres always this fear, "If
I share with my adviser what Im really thinking, what
are the repercussions?" It would be a wonderful thing
for discussion to explore some of the ways that we could
help figure out what we like to do.
Maccecchini, Founder and former CEO, Annovis Inc.
Many women in science who move into industry never planned
to do so. That is in some ways true for me also. I studied
in Switzerland, and there was only zoology then and it was
pretty miserable. I decided zoology was not what I wanted
to do and the United States had much better science, so
I came to Rockefeller University. I really wanted to be
a professor, and like Sue, I was good in the lab. I would
mix my stuff and it kind of worked and you got publications.
Then I got bored with test tubes. I decided I liked people,
too. But I also wanted to develop a product: I wanted to
have a drug.
So I went to
a pharmaceutical company as an entry-level scientist, and
I did really well. After six years I was running a group
of 35 people as manager of molecular biology (whatever that
was). And I said to myself, "Im never going to
develop a product here. It is so bureaucratic and things
are so slow." I think we were talking about the glass
ceiling then, too. But basically it occurred to me it was
going to take me 30 years to make it to VP of R&D. So
I went to work for a much smaller company. I was not developing
a product there either, but I got into business development
and sales, which really gave me a hands-on M.B.A. That was
my decision: instead of getting an M.B.A. to run a company,
I was going to kind of do a little bit of business-type
work. And it worked out all right.
Then I started
my own company because we were going to develop drugs. Well
nine years after starting the company, we are in the clinic
with two drugs. We have one in the clinic for epilepsy and
we have one in the clinic for addiction. But we are not done
If I can go back
to what Jill Sideman was saying, the interesting thing is
that the problem of women in science and/or business is twofold.
One is there are not any women, especially at the highest
levels. If I want to hire a woman as a VP of R&D, I cannot
find her. I really cannot. I do have two women who work for
me: one is VP of Business Development and one is VP of Sales.
Not R&D: they just do not exist. The same is true for
minorities. But let me say that two ethnic groups seem to
be doing something right, and those are the Chinese and South
Asians. There are not very many chemists in the first place,
and there are not that many biologists who do molecular stuff,
so when we look for an entry-level person with a Ph.D. or
a Sc.D., we get a lot of Chinese and Indian applicants, and
they are well trained.
So it seems like
even though there is a ceiling someplace, if you just hang
in there and work, since there is such a shortage of people,
you are going to get there. But the difficulty is first
to get a woman into the door and then have her be consistent
enough. And I do not mean this in a negative way. It is
tough. You will be turned down, and people will make snide
remarks, and you will go to a panel and only the guys talk
and you will not be invited. And that is reality. So the
only way you can deal with it is just say, "OK, Ill
try again." Just dont give up: "Ill
The reason I started
my own company really was that no matter what job I had, it
would have taken me forever to become CEO, and I probably
would have died before I became CEO of the company for which
I was working. So you go around the existing structure and
you start your own. And the problem then, of course, is a
totally different one. You have to raise money and then you
have a credibility issue. Bankers dont like women, either.
But it is doable and I think that if we can tell women
or minorities that if they like something, if they
have a dream, they should just go for it. Martin Luther King
did not say "I have a budget," he said "I have
a dream." And so if you just follow your dream you are
going to get there sooner or later, but the reality is that
it is not linear. It absolutely is not linear.
If I had stayed
in my first job, maybe I would be VP R&D by now, but it
would be boring and it would have been a struggle with a lot
of politics against a lot of other people that wanted that
job. Plus with all the mergers taking place, you have more
politics that come on board. So I think I did the right thing
by going into my own company. And you really have to believe
that you can do it. And if people tell you not to do it, just
Maria-Luisa, your comments raise some interesting questions
about the nontechnical skills that you realized you were
able to get how they contribute to having the knowledge
and experience necessary to start your own company, and
the possible arenas in which women can learn these skills.
Anne M. Thompson,
Ph.D. 78, Astrophysicist, Atmospheric Chemistry and
Dynamics Branch, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
I feel very privileged to be part of this symposium. There
were a few points that I wanted to make that I hope will
address the multiple sectors that our handcount showed are
here in the group today, and at the same time answer some
of the questions that Kitty Didion asked us to speak to.
The first thing
that I want to do, though, is clarify my job title, and
this is revealing in itself. Astrophysicist is an arcane
classification by NASA, which is a bureaucracy. Although
Goddard Space Flight Center, where I work, employs several
Bryn Mawr astrophysicists, my colleagues and I study the
earth ozone from satellites and from aircraft and ground-based
instruments. So really, the label that should go on those
in my group is geoscientist. And in that respect a lot of
the perspectives about career and career ladder that I will
offer will be similar to those of Professor Grew, because
she is actually a geologist. Furthermore, our promotion
and career ladders are probably somewhat similar in that
we have both been promoted on the basis of publish-or-perish
research, funding records and service.
experience has been in teaching and education, and mine has
been in managing, directing and running projects for NASAs
missions in science and for the American people. So my perspective
is that of a traditional research career in the government
sector. And I want to mention a couple of aspects that respond
to Kitty Didions charge to look at where we are today.
If you have listened
to what other panelists have said and you piece them together,
the buzzword is interdisciplinary. And the sort of work that
I do, a chemist turned into a geoscientist, is quintessentially
interdisciplinary. Thus an issue for our panel to think about
is how does the academy, still very disciplinary in its divisions,
prepare us for jobs in the real world that bring to bear our
most rigorous scientific training, but with the need to be
flexible and interdisciplinary in our thinking? I have found
that being able to do this does actually help propel one forward,
and is one reason that my work has been so exciting.
I am actually
more excited in the middle of my career about what I do
than I was when I left graduate school and when I was a
postdoc. It is because we keep addressing new problems.
The ozone hole, which was the buzzword of 10 years ago,
is now replaced by ozone smog concerns, which are the sort
that I study. And if you do interdisciplinary work and keep
redirecting it to new problems that emerge, you stay at
the cutting edge. Your career continues to move, always
upward, but with zigzags because we have all had these nonlinear
careers. This is a very important thing to realize.
in our vocabulary for doing science and technology are international
aspects of the work. Those of us doing geosciences come
face to face with this because we collectively own the planet,
and the atmosphere moves across national and international
borders. I have felt very fortunate that the projects that
I have done have taken me into many countries. I was in
South Africa last week working with graduate students who
have taken data with me jointly in projects throughout the
southern-hemisphere tropics. So I think "international,
interdisciplinary, evolving" are good descriptions
of where we are.
I want to say
a few things about service in the government. And the first
two relate to policy work in a more general aspect than
just being in the government, because there are a lot of
policy organizations that scientists join that are not strictly
governmental. One is that the opportunity and the challenge
to keep modifying the problems that one solves and re-addressing
research to meet these problems is always in your face when
you are working for the public or quasi-public sector. This
presents opportunities; it presents challenges. You are
not simply allowed always to do exactly what you are enjoying
doing. I frequently have had multiple projects and I have
published simultaneously in several areas. But some drop
out of favor or out of funding, and others come to the fore.
And it is necessary to stay flexible in that regard. If
you work for the government you are going to be faced with
doing that. It is an opportunity and a challenge.
One of the best
parts about this sort of work, though, is that we are often
connected to very hot issues. If you are doing ozone for
example, you will be entrained into writing ozone assessments
that guide policy-makers. I have been a contributor to the
inter-governmental documents on climate change. So those
career opportunities and opportunities to serve have been
pluses in government work.
There is another
factor that educators and students might think about and
that is there are multiple paths to advancement within the
government. There are more policy or management of policy
tracks. The track that I am in is still essentially a quasi-academic
research track. But there are multiple ways one can advance
within the government sector when one is trying to deal
with the complexity of lifes challenges and issues
of geographic location. The last aspect of government service,
which I found has been very positive, is that our promotion
system and our pay scales are pretty black-and-white and
totally public. Thus pay equity is less of an issue when
you know what the person next to you is making and what
you have to do to get to the same level.
One of the challenges
that we face, and we have already talked about this as a
potential issue for panels to address, is that the government
is downsizing. The agency for which I work has shrunk 30
percent in the past 10 years. It is going to be much harder
to advance in government service for people coming out of
school now. And yet the sort of environmental issues that
we study and address are going to need to be solved by our
society. I can see from this symposium that Bryn Mawr is
already addressing these issues with our very coming together
and recognizes that it has a very special role to play in
bringing students, educators, and the private and public
I guess that
maybe the advice I would give to students would be, first,
never relax your basic scientific training and instincts.
I have seen bad data proliferate and I have seen spacecraft
miss their target because people did not stop and question
what they were told. Second, stay alert, informed and ready
to reinvent yourself as trends and needs change. I was a
chemist. I am now a geoscientist. I can affiliate now comfortably
within engineering schools, and that would have horrified
me as a chemistry student and it might have horrified my
professors. And finally, I heard somebody else say already,
follow your heart, find your passion and have some fun.
I would love to have some discussion later on about how
one does manage zigs and zags in careers because I think
weve all experienced them.
Perkins Grew 62, Professor of Geosciences and Former
Vice Chancellor for Research, University of Nebraska
So our topic is, what is the changing landscape in our profession
in science? This room the Great Hall of the M. Carey
Thomas Library is a really wonderful place to have
this discussion, for it was created to make women feel that
they were in the absolute intellectual elite. The room was
modeled after one at Oxfords Wadham College, in part
to make women comfortable with the experience and environments
of leadership. And one of the things I want to talk about
today is how womens colleges have been successful
in making women not so afraid to be in the lead, and how
we can enable women in other settings to deal with the fears
of being at the top. For at the moment, there is a very
serious gender gap in the top leadership in science in the
universities. If we take a snapshot in time right now and
compare it to a snapshot taken four years ago, we would
find that there are still comparatively few women in top
science leadership positions at the premier, big-time universities.
Few women in the really senior positions, the power positions:
the chairs of departments, the heads of the big research
labs, the scientific leaders in government, the numbers
of women in the Academy of Sciences, the Academy of Engineering
and so on.
we have certainly made a lot of progress in terms of graduation
rates and numbers of degrees earned as undergraduates and
graduates in sciences. The year that I got my Ph.D.
1967 I was one of four women in the United States
who earned a doctorate in geosciences. I had no idea at
the time that there were so few of us. With the preparation
that I had gotten at Bryn Mawr, I didnt realize that
there was anything particularly strange about getting a
doctorate in geosciences.
I think one of
the biggest contributions we can make is really to help
women deal with their fears of being in the lead, their
fears of being better than other people in the class. It
is a fear that starts in elementary school. It is a fear
that is in middle school, and in high school when girls
do not want to set themselves apart. They are afraid of
being a nerd. They are afraid of being best in class. I
see that fear in women in my under-graduate classes at Nebraska.
Young women in my classes do not want people to know they
got 100 on the test. They just do not want to stand out.
And I think in order for women to be competitive at the
highest level, in order for them to move into the top levels
of the scientific establishment in this country, we are
going to have to deal directly with some of these fears.
There was an article
in the Chronicle of Higher Education in July 2000 by
Wendy Williams, an associate professor of human development
at Cornell University, called "Women in Academe and the
Men Who Derail Them" a catchy title! In a bit
of a different sense than what I want to talk about, it deals
with one of these fears. The article is about how women graduate
students who are easily able to compete for top-level jobs
nonetheless limit their job search to a very limited geographic
area because of a personal relationship with a partner, a
male who does not want to move. There is a tendency for women
to make that kind of adjustment early in their career thinking,
OK, I will take this job for one year in kind of well,
we wont say Podunk U., "somewhere in the Midwest,"
since I come from the Midwest but I think you know
what I mean. They do not take the job that they would have
taken if they were able to apply at the national level and
so this initial choice, Williams argues, really sets these
young women up to not reach the potential promised by their
skills and talent. I want to tie this one example to the famous
quotation of M. Carey Thomas: "our failures only marry."
It is stated slightly differently, but it is a similar issue
of having to deal with the fear of loneliness.
I am going to
talk about what I think are two major fears that women have.
First is fear of loneliness and the second is fear of risk-taking.
I think we have to address both of these fears. Theres
a lot of talk now about President Roosevelts "freedom
from fear" and that we should have a right not to be
afraid. I think we all realize that we are not completely
free from fear in life, and a woman in a scientific career
is not going to be completely free from fear. It is a matter
of learning to live with fears, to manage fear, to manage
That is what
I think we have to work with among minority women, too.
I work, for example, with Native American women students,
multicultural studies and repatriation of Native American
remains. If I were an Omaha woman getting up to speak, what
I would first say is I am embarrassed to speak before my
elders and I am also embarrassed to speak before those who
know more than I do. In some Native American cultures, it
is considered bad manners to set yourself apart from others,
or to be seen as being superior to others in accomplishments.
If you do that, then you are put in a very lonely situation.
I think that
fear of such a sphere of loneliness also haunts women going
into science careers. They are afraid they are not going
to be able to continue a personal relationship, they are
afraid of having to lose their friends in high school, they
are afraid of not being popular you name it. This
kind of fear of loneliness and isolation covers quite a
broad area. They feel they are going to be a nerd, they
feel they are going to be somehow set apart in some sort
of impersonal science and technology that has no humanity
There are, however,
ways to deal with this. An earlier speaker mentioned the
image that the woman scientist "does not have a life"
and lives in isolation. Certainly there are people like
that in any sort of a population, but science today is an
extremely social activity. You have got to be able to deal.
You have got to be able to work in a research team. You
have got to be able to manage graduate students. You have
got to be able to put together a coalition of research teams
from different universities. If you are the head of a department,
you have got to solve all sorts of personnel problems, deal
with the dean, deal with the president, sell your budget.
So being in science and technology is not in any sense an
impersonal thing where you are going to be cut off from
the world. In fact if you want to work in science management,
you can have just as much personal interaction as you want.
People also do
not realize how much socializing there is among scientists,
among scientific networks, among administrators. There is
an association for everything university presidents
have an association, vice chancellors for research have
an association, public utilities commissioners have an association.
In fact I am thinking of starting a support group for Native
American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA)
Coordinators! I have actually gotten some possible takers
I also think
women can cultivate a strategic use of humility that allows
for a different style of leadership. I tell women students,
OK, you can be a star. Just look at our football star and
see how he reacts with the press: humility is the thing.
We had this wonderful football coach at Nebraska, Tom Osborne,
and every fourth word people say about him is, "He
has so much humility." So here is this superstar, but
he conveys also a sense of humility. For women students
this example says you do not have to be totally arrogant
if you are a leader. In fact the best leaders, our leaders
in this audience, are not arrogant individuals.
The second big
fear I would say is the fear of taking risks. Of course,
any time we make any sort of a decision, we are going to
be taking a risk. It is risky to try to succeed; it is risky
to be a leader. The risks are criticism, failure, making
decisions that change peoples lives. You are going to risk
regretting what you have done; you are going to regret making
a mistake. You are maybe going to get a bad review on your
research proposal. You are going to get your book rejected.
You are going to encounter all sorts of things that make
you feel inadequate. You are taking a risk by putting anything
of yourself outside. I am taking a risk by giving this talk
to you because maybe you are saying, "Well shes
just out to lunch, you know?"
So we have to
take risks in order to go into science, in order to be scientific
leaders, in order to be a department chair, in order to
be a college president, in order to be head of a company,
in order to be a CEO. You are "it" if something
goes wrong. You get the credit if everything is fine and
if something goes wrong, then you get blamed for it.
In order to cope
with this risk-taking, the key thing is a sense of humor.
I would advise anyone just to look at a Hugh Grant movie,
one where he is just sort of bumbling along and being totally
charming, making one mistake after another, but has a sense
of humor. The "Hugh Grant lesson" is not to take
things quite so seriously when you make a mistake
to learn from your mistake, but also to forget the bad part
and move on. It is a cliché, but you have just got
to keep moving on. So, learn to have a sense of humor about
your mistakes. You are going to make ones that are really
horrible and you are going to have to ask for a lot of forgiveness
and you are going to have to accept forgiveness. There is
a lot of historical baggage that you just need to leave
behind. A mistake often hurts you more than anybody else,
and so you do not really have to have a total guilt trip
to this fear of risk-taking is also to continue to test
yourself, continue to try new things. You look at this panel.
We have all kind of created unique careers. I think I am
the only person in the country who is half-time a full professor
in geosciences and half-time Native American Graves Protection
Act coordinator. I think there are a lot of people in this
room who have unique careers.
I am scared of
taking on something new, yes, but then I think, "OK,
well I made a bigger jump about two jobs back, that one
where I was really scared, and I survived." I remember
when I interviewed for the position of vice chancellor for
research at Nebraska. I had never done anything like that
job before. The chancellor was Graham Spanier, who was at
Nebraska before he became president of Penn State. The interview
was in his office, and I was trying to do my best. And at
the end, he finally just looked me in the eye and said,
"Priscilla, can you do this job?" And I just said,
"Yes I can," hoping after I said it that I could.
But I had the confidence that I knew I could make a real
break; I had already taken a jump from pure academia into
state government and then state government into directing
a state geological survey in a university.
I did not speak
at a microphone until 15 years after I left studying in
this room. I finished graduate school at Berkeley and took
my first teaching job at Boston College. Boston College
was a mens Jesuit institution at the time. I taught
beginning geology "rocks for jocks"
including the freshman football team. In fact I still have
my notes and at the top it says, "Good morning, my
name is Priscilla" I guess in case I forgot.
I was so nervous and self-conscious about public speaking,
it took me two weeks to find out from my TA that there was
a hearts card game going on in the back row. I hadnt
been a TA at Berkeley; I was just going into this cold.
Each time you
try something new it takes some of the fear out of risk-taking.
That is why I think we must give our women students opportunities
to try new projects. That kind of experience is one lesson
we can take from the practice of Bryn Mawr and the other
womens colleges. These successful 19th-century experiments
have produced wonderful women leaders by making them comfortable
with their abilities, making them feel they are not going
to be lonely as leaders, making them able to take new risks
and helping them to convey that experience to other women.
Gerhard Sonnert and Gerald Holton of Harvard University echo
a lot of what you said about risk-taking. They did a very
good book called Gender in Science Careers: The Project
Access Study (1995), in which they note that one difference
between men and women scientists who had won a very prestigious
postdoctoral fellowship was that the women had a different
view of their own ability and different comfort levels in
Kahle, Condit Professor of Science Education, Miami University,
and Senior Adviser, Directorate of Education and Human Resources,
National Science Foundation
Much of my career has focused on identifying barriers that
prevent womens full participation in science as well
as what facilitates their achievement in scientific fields.
I focus primarily on K-12 education. I am going to talk
about K-12 issues and then briefly continue through the
I was fascinated
with Priscilla Grews comments about speech patterns
among Native American women. About 20 years ago, when I
had a group of women doctoral students at Purdue University,
I called a colleague in the communications department at
Purdue to ask that she talk with my students about speech
patterns. It was an eye-opening seminar for my doctoral
students and for me. My colleague pointed out how many women
begin sentences with disclaimers; e.g. "Well, I thought
I would say," "I was thinking about," etc.
Women tend not to state simply: "This is what I know,"
"This is what I can do."
Another point that
I want to make in preface is that women are not a homogeneous
group. There are different gender achievement patterns with
Asian Americans, with African Americans, with Latinas and
with European Americans. We have to be very explicit, and
too often both in government and in academia
data are generalized, reporting all women as one homogenous
What I have experienced
over the past 20 years and what I have seen at the national
level in the last few years is a very subtle change in what
constitutes barriers to girls and women in science, mathematics
and engineering, and how those barriers are built or broken
in K-12 classrooms. No longer do researchers find evidence
of overt sexism nor examples of overt discrimination in mathematics
and science education. What one finds now are very subtle
differences (what I call covert sexism or discrimination).
Lee at the University of Michigan and her colleagues reported
on a study of 21 secondary schools, examining what they
called "gender-related incidents." They studied
single-sex female schools, single-sex male schools, and
coed schools. In each school, they observed classes in history,
algebra, English, chemistry and one other subject selected
by the school. They found similar overall frequencies of
"gender-related incidents" in all three types
of schools. However, across all three types of schools,
the incidents were more common in chemistry classes. Further,
as the proportion of males to females rose in favor of males,
those incidents became more frequent. Lee reports that "gender-related
incidents" are small and so common that they often
go unnoticed by the untrained eye. That is, they are subliminal
or elevator music in a young womans education.
In another example,
a Canadian researcher tried to figure out why the girls
in his middle-school physical science classes, who were
doing very well, did not enroll in high-school physics.
He identified a barrier that he called "gender lore;"
that is, vaguely remembered information from media reports
and studies that is widely accepted and believed by adolescents
of both sexes (e.g., girls cant do math). His work
suggested that the belief and passive acceptance of "gender
lore" affected girls confidence, their willingness
to be risk-takers, and their performance in physics and
physical science. Next, he developed a program that challenged
"gender lore," resulting in more girls enrolling
I find these
two studies very important because they suggest, and name,
the subtle differences that girls experience in science
classrooms. They also suggest new approaches to gender equity.
Twenty years ago we focused on providing role models who
would motivate girls to become scientists. We sent women
scientists into class-rooms. However, results were mixed
at best. Then, a grant from the National Science
Foundation allowed me to examine the effect of near-age
role models; e.g., college undergraduates in lieu of professional
scientists. Junior and senior women science majors assisted
with laboratories in middle and high schools. My graduate
students and I observed and, over and over again, we heard
similar conversations. A high school young woman would ask
the college student, "Are you really a biology major
at Purdue?" "Yes." "Is it hard?"
"Yes." But the final question was always: "Do
you date?" Clearly, young women needed role models
with whom they could directly relate.
In thinking about
this talk, I revisited a very interesting experiment for
retaining girls and women in science by Neil Abraham at
Bryn Mawr College. Dr. Abraham developed a program that
combined four critical aspects for keeping undergraduate
women in science. First, he designed introductory courses
with a minimum of pre-requisites so that young women who
had not taken physics in high school could enroll. The hope
was that some of those women would discover that physics
was the love of her life or at least one of the loves of
her life. Second, he involved students in talking and writing
about physics, drawing on their verbal as well as quantitative
skills. Third, he used effective pedagogy. For example,
because demonstrations and large lectures often seem distracting,
inconclusive and very disconnected from laboratory work,
he used the same pedagogical approach in lecture as he used
in lab. This strategy is very important because on the whole,
women have fewer hands-on experiences with scientific equipment.
Fourth, he provided research opportunities and internships
for students. He assigned one department member to identify
research opportunities on campus for first- and second-year
students and off-campus opportunities for third- and fourth-year
students. Throughout their undergraduate years, the young
women practiced what they were learning. He also established
faculty apprentice opportunities for students. College funds
were used to provide apprenticeships so that students could
begin to have some in-depth insights into the doubts, despair
and indecision that are a natural part of any faculty members
life. His program was absolutely fascinating, because it
addressed all the barriers that research has identified
for recruiting and retaining young women in science.
still exist. According to a recent report of the American
Association for the Advancement of Science, women scientists
still earn 77 cents for every dollar a male scientist earns,
a situation that has not changed in 20 years. Further, women
full professors, on average, make 14 percent less than male
professors do. Real barriers persist in the workplace, whether
it is academia or industry, because little progress has
been made in accommodating the lifestyles of women. Different
patterns of promotion and retention are needed, particularly
changes in the accepted tenure pattern. During childbearing
years it is difficult to work full-time. Flexible routes
to tenure, in terms of productivity and years allowed, are
needed. Simply put, academia has not accommodated well to
womens life patterns.
What can be done
to overcome persistent barriers? Very briefly let me suggest
some radical strategies. In general, women have different
entry points into the scientific professions, whether academia,
business and industry, or government, than men. It is very
important that those entry points be identified and accommodated
by promotion and tenure decisions. For example women tend
to have longer postdocs, delaying their entry into the tenure
track. More women than men follow nontraditional educational
paths. We do not have strategies that allow us to reach
out to women who are in community colleges or to women who
complete their education part-time. There are few scholarships
for part-time students (mostly women) in colleges and universities.
We need scholarships
and fellowships that go to promising women scientists, mathematicians
and engineers who are able to enroll only on a part-time
basis. Because many women follow their partner to their
initial job, we need to provide graduate women in science,
mathematics and engineering with "portable" financial
aid, allowing the completion of their education and the
initiation of their careers. We might also experiment with
pilot programs that guarantee matching graduate school funds
to women college juniors who successfully complete a summer
research internship. And, we could target financial assistance
to programs that allow women students to earn salaries while
becoming involved in the scientific community during college.
These are a few suggestions that might serve to attract
and retain women in scientific and technological fields.
The need for
women scientists and engineers is clear. For example, the
number of women undergraduates in leading technology institutions
between 1987 and 1997 remained essentially the same
the percent of women studying science at Georgia Tech has
gone from 23 to 28 percent and at MIT from 32 to 40 percent.
If we do not increase the number of women entering the scientific
workforce, the need will be met in other ways. Currently,
the government has increased the number of visas allotted
in technological and scientific fields. Part of the fees
for those visas, paid by industry and business, goes to
the National Science Foundation to support programs to encourage
students to study science and engineering. However, those
programs do not focus on barriers for women or minority
Even with a dearth
of qualified scientists and engineers, as a nation we are
not investing in programs and research that address barriers
to women in science. For example, the National Science Foundation
targets only 5 percent of its education budget towards programs
for girls and women. Further, in response to an interview
question, none of the candidates for director or the division
that administers programs for women and girls replied that
additional targeted funds were needed. In other divisions,
funds for research or intervention programs for girls and
women are extremely limited. Yet, across both public agencies
and private foundations, the NSF allotment is the largest
targeted fund for women in this country.
Research has established
that girls decide to continue studying science with
the option of a scientific or technical career by grade
5. Further, we know that subject choices in middle and high
school either serve to keep the door to a scientific or technical
career open and to close it firmly. We cannot wait until college
to encourage women to consider science, but women college
undergraduates can play important roles in encouraging girls
to keep their options open. And teachers as well as parents
need to be cognizant of the sexism in a girls everyday
life from computer software to old-fashion games and
toys to TV programs and commercials. The barriers to girls
and women have not vanished; they have shifted. We know from
research that the accumulated effects of "gender-related
incidents" and/or "gender lore" can be as damaging
as overt comments. Perhaps, the subtle forms of discrimination
are a greater concern, because they are difficult to recognize
and, therefore, to address.