Question and Answer Comments
STRATEGIES AND POLICIES TO RECRUIT, RETAIN AND ADVANCE WOMEN SCIENTISTS
Marye Anne Fox (Moderator)
Chancellor, North Carolina State University
Participant: I want to thank Howard so much for introducing the issue of evaluation and, also, the MIT women's report. I certainly agree that it is the single women's faculty report that is going to help (I think), other universities take comparable steps, but I would like to bring up again the issue of evaluation. In that report, there is one wonderful sentence that says something to the effect that the whole issue after all is the role of prejudice in evaluating talent.
That is a statement from the MIT Women's Faculty Report and documenting discrimination, prejudice in the way that talent of the tenured women faculty particularly was being evaluated by their peers and their department heads, and I hope that others will agree that looking at that evaluation could move us all along.
Participant: I would like to point out just to remind us that very tough research lies ahead to understand all these issues, and I will cite a trivial example and then one that truly puzzles
me. The trivial example, back to your presentation, is that in our law schools I believe the majority of law students, in the United States, are now women. I think it is even a significant majority, and yet assertiveness is surely a criterion for selection of law students. At least it wouldn't be totally inappropriate, but the other example I wanted to give is one where there is no pipeline explanation. There is no social postpuberty explanation, and it comes from the National Geographic Society's Geographic Bee. There is a competition every year; some 8,000 to 10,000 middle schools participate. The children are between the ages of 8 and 11. At the school level, when they compete in the geography bee, and there is a lot of science, let me say in geography the way it is defined, the girls and the boys do equally well.
They then go on to compete at a regional and state level. At the state level, the girls win about one-third of the time and the boys about two-thirds of the time. The winners in the states go to Washington, about 50 or 60 of them, and they have a competition to determine which 12 will appear on television for the final end.
Out of that group, typically it is 11 boys and one girl, and there was one year when that one girl won the whole thing. That was pretty impressive, but the Geographic Society cannot understand what this is all about, and they tried. If any of you want a research grant from the Education Foundation at the Geographic Society, and you have a way to figure out what is causing this issue for 8- to 11-year-old kids then they would like to know. I think it is profoundly curious.
Response: Dr. Fox: Judges.
Participant: No, it isn't. You would have to say there is gender bias in the questions—these questions are quite explicit questions that have right and wrong answers. It isn't judges.
Participant: I would like to ask a slightly narrower question that I realize puts Mildred on the spot, but I think the fascinating issue with the MIT report is the question of why this happened.
You stressed, for example, the supportive nature of the president. Why did this happen? There must have been a lot of discussion on this or at least if you would be willing to give us your personal view, I would be very interested in that.
Response: Dr. Dresselhaus: Could you clarify your questions why what happened, why there was a —
Participant: The degree of inequality in treatment of apparently very distinguished faculty in issues such as space, for example, I mean is it because, I don't know, I could hazard many guesses, but I would be interested in hearing what you think.
Response: Dr. Dresselhaus: I remember when we got together the first time, we went around the room. The first cycle was for more than half of the people present —self-denial that there was any difference, that our treatment had been different. By the time we went around the room the second time, and we heard what the others said, we said: “Oh, that happened to me, too,” and so, I think a large part of the difference is that women do not ask for, they are not as aggressive in asking for equality in salaries, and equality in amenities. I speak for myself. I
certainly have not done that in my career, and as I look back on my career, there were many instances where I was shortchanged, and I didn't complain. I said, “I will just work within the system.”
Now, whether this has something to do with our upbringing or what, part of the problem is us. It is not all them.
Participant: I want more women to be Nobel Prize winners and to be members of the National Academy, but perhaps even more than that I want it to be possible for women to be good scientists, not just brilliant ones, just as most men are good scientists and engineers, not members of the Academy.
Balancing family issues is a difficult thing for women. Some years ago a very successful scientist came to speak at our university for Women's History Month, and as she was discussing her career she mentioned that she had taken less than four days of maternity leave for the birth of her four children.
This is the stuff of a superwoman, which is, in fact, what she is. What the men in the audience took away from that was that this was the way that women should approach having a family. What the women took away from it was that this was what the men would now expect and that this was not possible for them.
I wanted a comment from the panel because I think actually the reason this woman had told the story was that she wanted to show that it was possible to have a brilliant career and to have a family, but I think the result was not a good one and in fact, the woman who told the story is on a panel today, and so, I would like her comments on this, Dr. Dresselhaus?
Response: Dr. Dresselhaus: The question is at me, and I will try to answer it. I think that in my youth it was almost necessary to play the game that way. We didn't have so many options. However, I think there are other women who would disagree with me and would say that we should not have surrendered, and we should have behaved as we wished rather than as we thought society expected us to act.
Okay, that being the case, you will notice from my list I did not have anything on childcare and family care, and the reason for that is that we don't really have very good data on this, and I believe that we have not solved that problem very well within our community at MIT yet. I think we are working on it. That is one of the future issues. I believe that childcare is one of the critical needs for working women, not only women scientists, but all kinds of working women.
I would like to see better childcare available in general for all categories of women that is better quality and more affordable. We are not there yet. I believe that this is a responsibility of all society, not only women. It is for everybody to deal with.
Now, finally, you asked about young women. Young women don't have to endure the situation that I went through because it is much more acceptable now to have a family than it was a long time ago. However, it is not much easier, and we have to try to solve that and make it more doable. It is more acceptable, but it is not easier.
Participant: Yes, Mildred, to put you on the spot again —
Response: Dr. Dresselhaus: Okay, I am used to it.
Participant: You spoke about having a strong commitment from the president, a lot of support from the senior administration and deans, and yet MIT in case anybody else doesn't know it has zero tenured women in mathematics, and that has been the case for a long time.
Response: Dr. Dresselhaus: It is not the only department.
Participant: And it is not the only university either, but if you have got all this support, and you still have zero women. What do you do about it?
Response: Dr. Dresselhaus: What do we do about it? We talk about it. We have had a number of women who have had appointments in the department, some extremely promising. Some who had good possibilities for tenured appointments chose not to remain. Others who have been offered positions at the tenured level have chosen not to come. There are reasons for it, but you are quite right. That is a failure, and we have many failures. As I look through our statistics, we are only 10 percent or so women faculty. We have 40 percent women students. So, the pipeline is not going. Our flow chart is not without some obstructions, and we have to try to get over them.
You know a career in academia is not an easy thing today for women, and the more competitive the university, the more difficult it is, and one of the problems that we have at our institution is so many of our women students who are extremely capable are turned off from academic careers because they see it is so hard.
This is, also, true of men. It is not only a women's issue. This is a problem that we have and hopefully, we can do something to change it. I think this is a good COSEPUP topic. It is not a trivial thing.
To summarize, you have raised very important issues—that there are no tenured women in mathematics. I am hoping that within 5 years we can report that this has changed.
Participant: This is with regard to the last question, that at least at Princeton we have been able to have, in the last few years, a many-fold increase in the number of senior women in science and engineering, and I would probably not like to talk about the means in front of a microphone for fear of bringing the feds down on my head. Part of the reason, of course, is we started with such a low base, but I think it really is possible to do things that will make a big difference in this area.
Response: Dr. Dresselhaus: You had leadership at the top. You had a lot of strong support from the top.
Response: Dr. Fox: They had scientific leadership at department levels, at deans' levels, and at upper administration levels, something that I really think you need to think about as well with respect to these questions.
I can tell you it does not go without notice the fact that I can sign on a budget for $750 million a year in the administration of North Carolina State University.
That leads on to our next topic which is about advancing women into scientific leadership, and thank you again for the suggestions.