Overall, since 1973 there have been impressive and promising changes in the entry into and participation of women in science and engineering. Many of these changes are documented in the pages that follow. But while women have clearly made enormous gains in their participation in science and engineering, it is also clear that these advances represent neither unconditional success in overcoming gender inequalities nor assurance of continuing progress in the future.
The National Research Council (NRC) has a long and distinguished record of involvement in activities designed to increase the participation of women in scientific and engineering careers. In 1981 the NRC’s Committee on the Education and Employment of Women in Science and Education (CEEWISE) undertook a major study and published Career Outcomes in a Matched Sample of Men and Women Ph.D.s: An Analytical Study (Ahern and Scott 1981). The Ahern and Scott study, as the report came to be known, examined gender differences in the career paths of primarily academic scientists, engineers, and humanists employed between 1973 and 1979. As a portrait of women in science during the 1970s, the study provided definitive answers to several important questions. First, it found that women suffered disadvantages in career outcomes even after controlling for factors in the background of male and female scientists (e.g., prestige of the doctoral department, years of professional experience, and marital status) that might have caused the differences. Second, differences in career outcomes for several cohorts of scientists showed that gender inequalities were not all due to women being younger and thus more likely to be junior faculty rather than in senior positions. Finally, substantial variations across fields in how female scientists fared in academia were documented. The overall conclusion of the Ahern and Scott report confirmed the findings of many earlier studies (Ahern and Scott 1981:iv–v):
…with male and female scientists and humanists closely matched by education, experience, type of employment, and even subfield in many cases, none of the differences we have previously noted in career progress disappear and few diminish. Women remain less likely to be employed although seeking employment, their careers are apt not to develop as fully, and they remain significantly less well paid.
In partial response to the Ahern and Scott report, the NRC’s Office of Scientific and Engineering Personnel (OSEP) held a workshop in 1986 to examine the causes of the underrepresentation and career differentials of women at all levels of science and engineering (Dix 1987a). Following this