Question and Answer Comments
AN IN-DEPTH VIEW OF COMPUTER SCIENCE
Marye Anne Fox (Moderator)
Chancellor, North Carolina State University
Participant: I would like to make a comment. Thank you all, thank you, both, for this interesting discussion. Those of us who can remember 40 years ago, women in science, remember that we were told that something wonderful was about to happen. New departments of computing would be formed in universities, departments that did not have a history of a male establishment, and therefore these departments would immediately be 50 percent women, 50 percent men. You have shown us very graphically that that didn't happen.
I would suggest that the decline is the result of two things. In almost every case, the organization is deep within a male academic community, and for the same reasons that the National Academy of Sciences does not have many women, these male departments do not have many women.
I think Richard Tapia was right. We need a better support system. We call it a crisis of confidence, but I think that is the wrong
terminology. I think the truth is these women are not being supported in the fashion that would make it possible for them to succeed.
Therefore, I would like to make the following suggestion, that some kind of an experiment be carried out, and in view of Lilian's interesting ideas, I am even going to change what my suggestion (before she had gotten toward the end of hers) was going to be. That some department somewhere establish a computer or a subcomputer organization that has more female faculty than male, that you let people study under that environment, and see who has the crisis of confidence.
But I believe, and I think all of us who have looked at the statistics believe what Lilian said, and that is that industry has done a better job than academia in supporting women.
So, now, I wonder whether industry and perhaps even IBM could set up an academic division, in which anyone could come and teach, but again, where a significant number of the faculty are women. So, that is a question, if you want to answer.
Response: Dr. Wu: I have a reaction. About 10 years ago, right before I joined the Committee on Women in Science and Engineering, I would say that industry, at that point, wasn't so great. It was pretty much the way I would say what I hear from my colleagues in the academic world, the same kinds of problems, the same kinds of chilly atmosphere, and it has only been in the past 5 years could I really comfortably say that, you know, the atmosphere is quite different, and it has changed to be an atmosphere that is supportive.
I think there are a number of reasons for that in IBM, but I think that the change is real, and the appreciation for what women can actually bring to technology is one that is really real.
So, I am actually quite optimistic that once all of the very, very bright people start thinking about this, and if you do come to the conclusion that it really is something that makes sense, that things will happen because it happened at IBM in my own experience very, very quickly. Once it was recognized, once it was believed that this is something good, we really changed the atmosphere around.
So, it can happen quite fast.
Response: Dr. Wulf: I think this is a fascinating idea. I was listening to Lilian and trying to map the notion of fast change onto any of the academic departments I know of.
I don't want to go there, okay?
Participant: I am compelled to say that it is 1999, and the legislation, the laws banning discrimination changed, what, 20 years ago? The number of Ph.D.s in physics and astronomy has been 10 percent for 100 years, and in the last 10 years the National Academy of Sciences has elected 2 percent women.
Things are not changing in the Academy, and I laughed at the notion of if working women, for example, are catalysts doing the survey in academia what they provide in terms of child care and maternity leave, support structures, I laugh at that notion. It would be so hysterical to see what they would find.
My experience is that, I am an academic astronomer, these universities have no interest in general. Rice is probably a small exception.
There is no interest in changing the number of women percolating up through the ranks. The statistics that are on the Web from the NSF and everywhere else show that there is leakage, and I don't even like that term “leakage” at every step of the pipeline. What it really means is ongoing discrimination. The percentage of women who are promoted to tenure is lower than their percentage in the pool. I mean the percentage of men who are promoted to tenure. They take longer to promote to tenure. There is the lovely work by Sonnert and Holton, which shows that even the top, the elite women in science, and NRC postdocs suffer from this discrimination.
It seems to me—and I will conclude this speech—I am sorry to go on, but it seems to me that there is a fundamental break between the beliefs of a traditional academic world, which believes in their souls that the best succeed and the objective evidence, which all of us as scientists should be able to evaluate, which is that the best do not succeed, that is that many of the best are not succeeding.
Participant: It is not really a question. It is a comment, and I wasn't sure whether I should make it or not, but I am a little distressed. In fact, I am quite distressed at the message that seems to be coming through that women are intrinsically less interested in how things work and how they are put together; in what I consider to be the interesting things; that they are interested really for what appear to me other reasons. I am not saying that they are peripheral, but they are intrinsically different, and that may in fact be true. If it is true, I am really distressed to find out that it is true.
I think it is not true, and I think that the problem is really elsewhere. I don't know where it is, but I don't think that is where it is at.
Response: Dr. Wu: In the kinds of things that I have worked on, the understanding how it works is a very big part of it, as well, and it is not so much an understanding how the computer works per se but understanding how deregulating the electricity market would work, and there is just as much understanding per se in that question of what are the right kinds of regulations for the government to put down versus those that they should leave alone and let industry figure out for itself.
I think those are just as worthy questions to think deeply and passionately about, and I am not sure the computer, thinking deeply about the computer per se is the only thing that one can get passionate about.
Participant: Just a brief comment on process. One thing that is different about industry, at least in my industry and I think, also, at IBM, is that we have been required to address this issue face on for at least the last decade and attendance at consciousness–raising encounter sessions is mandatory, and we have seen a massive change in our behavior over the last decade.