Ensuring the Future Participation of Women in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering

Shirley M. Tilghman, Ph.D.

Princeton University

The title of this paper is “Ensuring the Future Participation of Women in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering” because those are the three main areas that I want to address. Over the past 25 years, there has been remarkable progress in the participation of women in all of these fields. We should celebrate that fact, and not let it get lost.

Why is it important that women are active participants in science, engineering, and mathematics? There are four arguments that suggest why we should care. The first argument is that science will benefit the scientific community by tapping into the entire talent pool. If we are only encouraging half of the population to enter careers in science, we are losing an enormous potential. The second argument, which is debatable, is that women’s interests in science may not completely coincide with the kinds of things that interest men. Women do not do science differently; rather, their interests may differ in some cases. By encouraging women to enter into science, we increase the diversity of the kinds of problems that we study in science. The third argument is unquestionably true. Science will look increasingly anachronistic if women do not participate. As women’s participation increases in every other activity, science will be less attractive in general to talented students without active participation by women. Finally, it is unjust for a profession to organize itself in such a way as to exclude women; it is a pure justice argument.

If we examine the 25-year period from 1975 to 2001, there has been a steady increase in the number of women completing bachelor’s degrees in all branches of science. In biological sciences and in chemistry women



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The Markey Scholars Conference: Proceedings Ensuring the Future Participation of Women in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Shirley M. Tilghman, Ph.D. Princeton University The title of this paper is “Ensuring the Future Participation of Women in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering” because those are the three main areas that I want to address. Over the past 25 years, there has been remarkable progress in the participation of women in all of these fields. We should celebrate that fact, and not let it get lost. Why is it important that women are active participants in science, engineering, and mathematics? There are four arguments that suggest why we should care. The first argument is that science will benefit the scientific community by tapping into the entire talent pool. If we are only encouraging half of the population to enter careers in science, we are losing an enormous potential. The second argument, which is debatable, is that women’s interests in science may not completely coincide with the kinds of things that interest men. Women do not do science differently; rather, their interests may differ in some cases. By encouraging women to enter into science, we increase the diversity of the kinds of problems that we study in science. The third argument is unquestionably true. Science will look increasingly anachronistic if women do not participate. As women’s participation increases in every other activity, science will be less attractive in general to talented students without active participation by women. Finally, it is unjust for a profession to organize itself in such a way as to exclude women; it is a pure justice argument. If we examine the 25-year period from 1975 to 2001, there has been a steady increase in the number of women completing bachelor’s degrees in all branches of science. In biological sciences and in chemistry women

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The Markey Scholars Conference: Proceedings are essentially at parity. Fifty percent of the bachelor’s degrees in those fields currently are being awarded to women. In the physical sciences women’s participation is lagging, but has more than doubled in the 25-year period. Nineteen percent of bachelor’s degrees in physics are awarded to women as are 18 percent of undergraduate engineering degrees. There has been a steady increase in the number of women completing Ph.D.s in all of the sciences. In biological sciences, women now earn over 40 percent of doctorates, and in chemistry a remarkable 33 percent of doctorates are awarded to women; that is a three-fold increase in 25 years. In the physical sciences, 12 percent of doctoral degrees are awarded to women and in engineering there has been a five-fold increase, from an unbelievable 2 percent in 1975 up to 11 percent in 2001. In addition, women are entering the faculty in increasing numbers. The number of women in science faculty has been increasing at every rank. However, one of the chronic problems in women’s distribution across ranks in academia is that women are most dominant in the instructor/lecturer position. At most institutions these tend to be non-tenure track positions with the least job security. Some of the differences between assistant, associate, and full professors can be explained by pipeline issues. Although the pipeline is increasingly becoming a problematic excuse for the small number of women in the full professor ranks and cannot be used as excuse anymore. There is clearly leakage as one moves up the professional ranks to full professor. One could celebrate these numbers. One could say that these numbers are telling us that it is simply a matter of time. That if we gather together in another 10 years, we will see further progress and eventually women will be full and equal participants in science, engineering, and mathematics. That we are on a good track; let us just keep going. That there need not be any additional attention paid to this issue; this is a time-dependent phenomenon. This argument cannot be supported. In fact, there are a number of indicators that suggest that unless we continue to focus on this issue we are at risk not of just stalling out, but of actually falling back. Here are some of the indicators that give me pause. In 1999, women full professors were concentrated in non-research intensive academic institutions. In 2-year institutions (these are community and junior colleges), 42 percent of full professors were women. In liberal arts colleges (these are colleges without a graduate school), 23 percent of full professors were women. In the research-intensive university, 17 percent of full professors were women. Women Ph.D.s are not distributed evenly across different kinds of academic institutions; rather, they

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The Markey Scholars Conference: Proceedings are in the places where one is least likely to find women at the top of the professoriate. Thirty-four percent of women scientists and engineers are unmarried compared to 17 percent of men. Ten percent of married women scientists and engineers have an unemployed spouse compared to 38 percent of men. Twenty-one percent of women scientists and engineers identified balancing family and work as a career obstacle compared to 2.8 percent of men. That may be the most important finding as it reflects the other two. These data state loudly and clearly that the professional experience of women in science and engineering is substantively different than it is for men in the same field. As we examine all the issues, I come back to this fundamental difference in the experience of men and women. The study initiated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) several years ago by Nancy Hopkins has now been replicated at several other institutions, including Cal Tech. The reports have shown that women in science and engineering faculty are more likely to report that they feel marginalized and isolated at their institution, have less job satisfaction, have unequal lab space, unequal salary, unequal recognition through awards and prizes, unequal access to university resources, and unequal invitations to take on important administrative responsibilities, especially those that deal with the future of the department or the research unit. The fact that this study has been replicated at other institutions says that this is not an MIT specific problem. This is a generalized problem about the way women faculty at research-intensive universities experience their career environment. All of these phenomena suggest that this is an issue that has not gone away. We cannot let the numbers run. We need to do some careful thinking about what are the underlying forces that impact these indicators. Here are some of the forces that we have to contend with, and it is important that we state them openly and clearly, and not pretend they are not important issues. The first and largest force is the cultural expectation that women have primary-care responsibilities. Obviously, they have the biological responsibility of bearing the child, but in fact even after the child is born women are expected by society to take on the primary responsibility of childcare. There have been many fascinating studies that have looked at the impact over the past 25 years of what is clearly a very positive movement of men wanting to be more engaged in parenthood. All of those studies say that improvements in fact are there, that men are much more engaged in childcare than they used to be. But all of those studies also say that the balance is still very unequal, that women still assume the greatest amount of responsibility. After children leave the home, women also become the primary caretaker of elderly parents.

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The Markey Scholars Conference: Proceedings Another force—that is important when you consider point number one—is the intensification of work expectations in all job sectors. There are many current studies that show that the workforce in America is taking fewer leisure hours. The amount of hours at work is increasing. The 40-hour workweek has been replaced by a 48-hour workweek. The average number of weeks of vacation that we take is declining across the country. So this intensification, this increasing expectation of what is required in order to do the job, is a force that is really working against the further inclusion of women into science and engineering. The increasing length of both graduate and postgraduate training is a trend that disadvantages women enormously. It disadvantages men as well. It serves no one’s interest to have Ph.D. and postdoctoral training now upwards of a dozen years before becoming an independent investigator and running their own laboratory. The coincidence of these years with childbearing makes it more difficult for women to contemplate, to anticipate that they in fact can have a successful scientific career. This issue is especially important in the physical sciences, mathematics, and engineering where there is a paucity of good role models and mentors. Both of these forces are important. In fields where they are few women it has become a vicious circle. Generating numbers really matters. It is becoming less of an issue in the biological sciences where there are so many women doing well, but for science, physical sciences, and mathematics this is a serious issue. Finally, there is another cultural norm that we have to fight against, which is the norm that sets no expectations for women’s success in science and devalues women’s contribution. There are many studies that have shown that women are given cues—beginning in high school, extending into college and graduate school, and even into postdoctoral studies—that women need not set high expectations. These cues come from important people such as mentors, professors, and colleagues that say, “Well, you don’t really have to try and get a job in a research-intensive university. Why don’t you think more about going to, you know, a small teaching college. Wouldn’t you have a nicer life that way?” It is very important that we are conscious of the cues that we send to our women students because they are picking them up. Without high expectations, people very quickly become discouraged. This is a chronic problem, and one that we must be conscious of and fight against. There is no magic bullet; one thing that would get us on a straightforward path that would need very little correction. There are, however, examples of best practices, things that we in our own institutions can do that will increase the likelihood that our students and fellows will go on to have the kind of successful careers in science that all of you in this room have enjoyed so enormously. The first best practice is articulating the value of diversity, and then

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The Markey Scholars Conference: Proceedings rewarding it. At Princeton this year I established a fund in the provost’s office that would create supplementary positions in any department who could bring to an interdisciplinary committee or faculty, a candidate who would increase the diversity of our faculty. Princeton is no different than any of the rest of your institutions. We have fewer women than should be on the faculty. We certainly have fewer African-Americans than we should have on our faculty. We established carrots in the provost’s office that reward diversity in hiring with supplementary positions for the life of the time the hire works at the university. As a consequence of this, Princeton hired four senior-level African-American scholars in different fields this year. That represents 50 percent of the total number that were in the university prior to that. Clearly articulating this as a priority and providing resources for its completion can prove very successful. As a result of this program, we are hiring two women in civil engineering, the first two in that department. We are hiring a woman in mathematics, and we are hiring a woman in physics. Stating that the goals are important and giving resources can lead to good progress. The second best practice is obvious. Institutions have to have family-friendly policies. One of the best conversations I have had in the last 6 months was with Gerry Rubin, who spoke at Princeton last month about the new Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) initiative, Janelia Farm. The question that Gerry posed to me is, “Here we have this opportunity to create an entirely new institution, how can we create it in such a way that it will be a great place for women to work?” The fact that Gerry would ask that question had me smiling for weeks afterwards. The fact that I think he is going to succeed at it made me even happier. There are many family-friendly policies that we all know about. We have to make sure that they are in place, and that they are being administered fairly. We cannot ignore the fact that while women faculty, women scientists, and women engineers are having small children, they are going to be less productive; during that period, they are working two jobs. The only way that institutions can compensate for this is to implement what we should be doing across the board, which is recognizing quality, not quantity. In the end, what pushes science forward? It is not the 22 papers in Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications (BBRC). What pushes science forward are the seminal papers, the extraordinarily creative, imaginative, groundbreaking piece of work. If we as a field reward quality and not quantity, women at all stages of their careers will compete extremely effectively. Mentoring is important and it is important at every level. Arthur Miller said, “Attention must be paid.” This is important, it has been shown over and over, and over again, how important mentoring is at the undergraduate level. The institutions that do the best at encouraging women to enter careers in science are the small liberal arts colleges and the histori-

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The Markey Scholars Conference: Proceedings cally black colleges. Spellman College sends more black women into science than the rest of universities put together. The reason is that these are institutions that pay a lot of attention to individuals. For young women to be interested in science, what really matters is being in a place where people are paying attention to people. Of course, this extends up through the ranks as well. Institutions have to take the lead that was set by MIT and study themselves, and then honestly publicize the results. We need to know where we are in order to know where we are going. I really admire Chuck Vest at MIT. He did an extraordinary thing by publishing the results of that MIT study. He set a model that the rest of the universities should absolutely be following. The last point is developing curriculum that encourages students rather than weeds them out, but at the same time that also sets high expectations. For example, this year I met with the advisory committee to our computer science department. Computer science is a very interesting field because it was created about the same time as molecular biology. One of the explanations that has been given for why there are so many women in molecular biology relative to other sciences is because it was a new field; it did not have 250 years of culture dragging along behind it. From the very outset women were active participants and it was the lack of history that really made the difference. Computer science is a counter example. Computer science started just about the same time and had a similar early history. Women poured into computer science in the 1960s, and were doing extremely well and then their numbers took a nosedive. Now computer science is a field that struggles to find women students. The advisory committee pointed something out to me. Imagine what it is like for a woman on the first day of a Computer Science 101 class. She is sitting in a room full of young men who have been programming since they were 12, spending their entire lives in their bedrooms playing computer games, and who can probably teach the class. There are very few young women who come in with that kind of cultural background. There are fundamental differences in the experiences of 18-year-old men and women with respect to computer science. It is extremely important to create curriculum that is equally satisfying to men and women rather than putting them in the same classes and expecting the same outcomes from them. For about 4 years, Carnegie Mellon has had a program in place that does exactly that, and it has been extraordinarily successful. They are now graduating more women in computer science than any other university in the country. It was simply a matter of acknowledging this simple difference, and then adjusting the curriculum. These are some of the things that we are trying to do in order to ensure that the next generation of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians is going to include women.