rooted in the worry that standards will be lowered if, for example, allowances are made for a young woman who has children while working toward tenure. Because academic institutions need the best minds, dedication and effort needs to be considered in context. It’s like watching two racers complete an obstacle course in nearly the same time, while one carries a 100-pound pack on their back and the other is unencumbered. Currently, we favor the lightweight because they probably finished first. But we should think about the heavyweight, and realize their intrinsic ability is much greater—something we would miss if we didn’t consider the context. Next year, or 5 years from now, that heavyweight’s burden will likely be lower, and the lightweight’s burden could have increased, due to aging parents or disease or a divorce. Judging intrinsic merit is important.
Programs already under way in universities and funding agencies across the nation illustrate that well-planned knowledge-based efforts to remove constraints on women academics’ careers can produce substantial results. Whether those efforts involve “small wins” or institution-wide transformations, to be successful they must include use of accurate information about the existing situation, attention to problematic elements of institutional culture and practices, input from affected persons to help identify those elements, evaluation of results, and buy-in from leadership at all institutional levels.
Carrying out adequate data gathering, planning, implementation of changes, and evaluation requires that sufficient resources be dedicated to the objective of increasing diversity. Academic institutions must be joined by scientific and professional societies and federal agencies for lasting change to occur. All three sectors must provide leadership on issues of diversity, hold their constituents accountable for change, and provide clear measures and methods for compliance. Together, they can work to promote and ensure equity, increase the pool of talented scientists and engineers, and ensure their integration into the nation’s economy.