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CHAPTER 1 CONSTRAINTS, BARRIERS AND POTENTIAL The evidence in this report shows, as have previous studies, that women are represented in very small percentages in the doctoral labor force of engineering and the physical sciences. The percentages are somewhat larger in the life sciences, psychology, and the social sciences, but even in psychology, the major field with the largest participation by women, women were only 23 percent of the doctoral labor force in 1977 (Table 2.8). Not only are there relatively few women scientists and engineers in the labor force, but employed women scientists have not shared their men colleagues' advancement in either position or salary. Two general questions emerge from this picture: why are there so few women scientists, and why is their progress so slow? To approach these questions it is appropriate to consider, albeit briefly, some of the constraints and barriers that have contributed to the paucity of women among the ranks of professional scientists and engineers. Sex Differences in Scientific Aptitude There are certain widely held ideas concerning areas of sex differences, and in the past it has been difficultâfor specialists as well as for nonspecialistsâto assess the validity of these ideas due to inadequate knowledge or research about human behavior. There is now an encyclopedic compilation and discussion of the results of psychological research on sex differences by Maccoby and Jacklin (1974) , which makes possible a clearer understanding of what is myth, what is fact, and what has not yet been established. It should be noted that Maccoby and Jacklin find very few documentable differences between the sexes, and that the large majority of studies they review has focused on children. The data presented and carefully analyzed by these psychologists include some that are especially pertinent to this report. It has been shown, for example, that the two sexes are similar in their early acquisition of quantitative 11
concepts and their mastery of arithmetic in grade school, but that boys' mathematical skills increase faster than girls' from about age 12. The solving of mathematical problems requires, in varying degrees, verbal skills at which more girls than boys excel (Maccoby and Jacklin, 1974, pp. 75 ff.), visual-spatial ability at which more boys than girls excel (pp. 89 ff.), and analytical capacities in which there are no sex differences (pp. 98 ff.). Thus, it is not certain how much of the sex difference in observed mathematical ability results from the difference in visual- spatial ability, and how much can be accounted for on the basis of exposure to and encouragement in mathematics during secondary school and thereafter. However, even if it were found that more boys than girls were genetically endowed to be facile in mathematics, there are obviously other factors that contribute to the 14-fold difference in the number of women and men who have received science doctorates. One broad consideration relates to the fact that, at all levels of schooling, until recently fewer girls than boys have proceeded to the next level even though, at each level, girls have regularly received higher grades.1 This attrition of girls and young women from the educational ladder has had an effect on all areas of endeavor, including the pool of doctoral scientists. Can the less frequent participation of females through the ranks of formal education be accounted for on the basis of motivation? The design of research in this area is such that we have clues only to some elements of the larger dynamic of achievement motivation. Both girls and boys demonstrate motivation to achieve (Maccoby and Jacklin, 1974, pp. 135 ff.), and the few sex differences that are observable when success is measured by some objective standard, such as school performance through the high school years, show superior achievement by girls (pp. 135-136). There is some evidence to suggest that boys' achievement motivation is stimulated by competitive conditions, that is, by the prospect of being compared favorably with respect to peers. Sirls appear better able to sustain motivation for achievement in the absence of such conditions (pp. 141, 149) . Closely related to achievement motivation are self- esteem and self-confidence. When females and males rate themselves in these areas (in the absence of comparisons with others), the results are strikingly similar (Maccoby and Jacklin, pp. 150-153). However, in spite of these attitudinal similarities, males approach a variety of tasks, particularly new ones, with more confidence than do females. Although women apply high standards to their work and perform well, they predict that they will not do as well in the future as their previous performance would indicate (p. 154). By the time of the college years, women believe that 12
their achievements are due to factors other than their own skills and hard work. In contrast, men exhibit a marked sense of personal potency: they believe they have the power to control their own destiny, they overestimate their position in the dominance hierarchy, and their sense of self-worth is enhanced by positive feedback while they are relatively insensitive to (do not seem to "hear") negative feedback (pp. 157-158). The sex differences addressed here, namely the verbal and visual-spatial differences that emerge at about age 12, and the differences in perceived sense of personal potency and interpersonal competitiveness that emerge at about age 17 or 18, appear to be the ones most relevant to an aptitude for science. However, there is a lack of data to indicate the extent to which these aptitudes or behaviors are essential for individuals entering scientific careers. The remainder of this chapter, based on a number of retrospective studies (see, for example, NRC 1975a, and references cited therein), will discuss the personal qualities, motives, educational opportunities, and categories of significant others that, together, seem to have influenced individuals in becoming scientists. Cultural and Structural Barriers It is unnecessary to provide documentation that science and technology have been consideredâuntil recent timesâ inappropriate careers for women in our society, so ubiquitous has been this belief. In this section we shall examine briefly some of the cultural and structural barriers encountered by girls and women in acquiring their formal education. As we noted earlier, the differences in the skills of boys and girls, which are minimal or nonexistent during the primary school years, begin to appear at adolescence. The factors that assume importance at this time and ultimately produce distinct educational outcomes for men and women require investigation. Traditionally, this was the time at which training divergedâboys could take mechanical drawing while girls could not. Less obvious developments may also produce significant results. In a study conducted some time ago, the values of peer groups in coeducational high schools were shown to be related to the limitation of girls' aspirations and performance (Coleman, 1961). We need to know whether such values have been altered in a new social climate and what other influences are significant as adolescents begin to plan for their adult roles. In any event, at the secondary school level, the percentage of girls participating in mathematics and science courses decreases as the sophistication of these courses 13
increases, dropping sharply when the courses are not required (Ernest, 1976). The decreases in participation are so large that we may surmise a lack of encouragement or expectation is a factor. In turn, preparation that has been marginal or inadequate in high school predisposes to low participation by women in science and mathematics courses during the college years. Thus the size of the pool of women with appropriate credentials for continuing to graduate science programs is considerably smaller than would be expected solely on the basis of academic ability and the range of courses available in secondary school and college. Indeed, measured by ratings at the secondary school level and undergraduate grades (see Chapter 2), women who completed doctorates were, in the aggregate, more highly qualified academically than the men who did so. What happened to the women who were as well qualified as the men? Studies on undergraduate academic environments have brought to light a number of elements that appear to be closely related to the development of talent in women. Among those most frequently hypothesized is the presence of substantial numbers of women faculty who serve as role models: a strong, positive correlation exists between the proportion of women faculty and the number of women students who are subsequently cited for career achievement (Tidball, 1973). More specifically, the women's colleges, where for many years at least half of the faculty members have been female, have graduated almost one-third of the women who have gone on to receive doctorates in science and engineering, even though these colleges granted less than 15 percent of all bachelor's degrees received by women during the comparable time span (Tidball, 1975). It must be recognized that other factors that exist in the women's colleges may be contributing to such resultsâdistinctive distributions of fields in which degrees are granted, the values that are shared by predominantly female student bodies, and the degree of insulation from male students displaying greater self-confidence. We need to know more about the ways in which these factors operate. It should also be noted that the women's colleges represented by these women achievers and scientists exhibit considerable diversity in terms of admissions selectivity, academic expenditures, geographical location and nature of sponsorship (i.e., private or public). Women students who subsequently completed doctorates were most likely to have earned BA's, if not from women's colleges, then from baccalaureate institutions that had a long and continuous history of women graduates who attained doctorates, and that offered strong academic preparation in several areas of study (Tidball and Kistiakowsky, 1976) .
Aside from the proportion of women faculty, other variables are of considerable significance to the development of talent in women undergraduate students. One of these relates to the attitudes of women and men faculty toward the students they teach and toward themselves as academic professionals. Both women and men faculty tend to be supportive to students of the same sex to a greater extent than those of the opposite sex, and far more women than men are in tune with issues of particular concern to women in academe (Tidball, 1976). The relatively small proportion of women faculty on most campuses suggests that there will be fewer faculty who believe in women students' competence and hold high expectations for their accomplishment. Additionally, women faculty generally rate themselves as unsuccessful, particularly when they compare themselves with male peers. Elements of professional activity that correlate most strongly with self-assessments of success differ for women and men faculty: women emphasize a variety of elements that includes teaching, alliance with women-related issues, and association with successful men; men exhibit a strong positive focus on the research image of the institution and a strong negative emphasis on teaching (Tidball, 1976). Thus, students are taught by women faculty who tend not to think well of themselves and men faculty who tend to be most supportive of men students but who often do not think well of teaching. The examples of women achievers for students in most undergraduate institutions are faculty clustered in tne lower ranks without tenure and faculty whose salaries are lower than those of their male colleagues at every rank. Additionally, women faculty members tend to be underemployed or misemployed so tnat their energies are dissipated in peripheral activities which do not accord them the professional recognition conferred on male faculty (Reagan and Maynard, 1974). Career options for science majors have traditionally emphasized the necessity for a full-time commitment, based in part on the relatively high cost of teaching science and hence the investment that has already been made by the time of college graduation. The idea of not "wasting" one's education is applied more vigorously to the science student than to the English major. It is not easy to participate in some scientific endeavor alone, at home, or without benefit of special equipment or facilities. It is also deemed more difficult to keep up in the sciences on a part-time basis or an interrupted schedule. Just how essential full-time and uninterrupted commitment is for those who would contribute to the scientific endeavor has not been put to rigorous test. If the constraints within the formal setting of undergraduate institutions are compounded by the cultural bias that holds the study of science to be unsuitable for 15
women, it is perhaps not surprising that there are relatively few women scientists. Graduate education itself is not without additional hurdles for women. The barriers of cultural and structural origin found in the undergraduate setting are intensified, while new constraints appear as the woman comes closer to membership in the profession. Two collections of articles draw attention to many of these constraints: Graduate and Professional Education of Women (American Association of University Women, 1974) and Research Issues in the Employment of Women (NRCr 1975a). A paper in the latter collection describes the usual situation for women graduate students in science. In Perrucci's study (1975), the graduate students and faculty of six science departments were survey respondents. The results indicate that occupational role socialization in academic science departments may differ for women and men graduate students. Women Ph.D. candidates are more likely than their male classmates to believe that faculty members expect most career goals to be held mainly by men. The extent to whicn the faculty members of a department do, in fact, attribute these goals primarily to male students is inversely related to the strength of career commitment among women graduate students in that department. Among the departments studied, chemistry had the largest percent of faculty holding such "male-oriented" views (Perrucci, 1975, pp. 109-110). Questions on attitudes toward female graduate students were also included in the Carnegie Commission's national survey of faculty and graduate students (Feldman, 1974). Male students and faculty agreed, to a greater extent than female students and faculty, that female students are not as dedicated as their male counterparts, although in no case did the proportion in agreement reach 50 percent. In general, agreement was highest in fields with fewer women graduate students. In the sciences, the highest percentages of faculty affirming the lesser dedication of women were found in biochemistry and chemistry with the lowest percentages in anthropology and political science. The greatest student agreement was found in chemistry and botany and the least in psychology (Feldman, 1974, pp. 70-71). The same study included a more detailed analysis of commitment among men and women students in five science fields having large proportions of respondents agreeing with the lesser dedication of women. In all five fields, the women had higher undergraduate grade point averages than the men. Nevertheless, the female students were more likely than the males to state that inability or emotional strain might lead them to drop out of graduate school. Among students having a close working relationship with a 16
professor, however, women were no more likely than men to anticipate dropping out. Lower percentages of women than men considered their relationships with their closest professors to be of this kind (Feldman, 1974, pp. 112-113). The assumption that science is a masculine endeavor emerges and re-emerges throughout all phases of women scientists' academic and professional development. The impact of family lifeâmarriage itself as well as the rearing of childrenâis regularly raised as an issue of major proportions which women are supposed to defend or deny. The conflicts for women between attitudes deemed appropriate for scientific careers and those associated with feminine roles are very real even though the inevitability of such conflicts has not been demonstrated. On the other hand, the practical support structures that would enable women to engage more freely in their work are not regularly and dependably available. Discrimination against women, as students and as professional scientists, has been well documented. Reference to some of this evidence is presented in other chapters of this report. Anti-nepotism practices in many employment situations, as well as numerous "non-actionable" behaviors, tend to have larger negative effects on women than on men even though they are not strictly illegal or easy to document. Rowe (1974) has constructed an extensive catalog of discriminatory behaviors that regularly impinge upon women and thereby reduce the energies they have available for productive work. Conclusions The thrust of this chapter has been to suggest that there are both cultural and structural factors favoring the attrition of girls and women from science programs, starting at an early age. The effects of these factors are cumulative so relatively few of the women who early in life showed an interest and aptitude for science are finally represented among the ranks of professional scientists. Significant changes in this traditional picture began in the 1960's. The women's movement gave impetus to an immense and highly diverse research endeavor in which scholars from many fields and points of view have addressed issues pertinent to the education and employment of women, including those of women in science and engineering. As this report will show, more women are proceeding from high school to college and on through graduate programs, and more women are seeking and gaining professional employment. The talent pool of women scientists is larger than many have presumed. 17
Study Recommendations 1. Research is needed to clarify factors influencing the growing disparity during adolescence between boys' and girls' interest and achievement in mathematics and science. 2. The marked difference between single-sex and coeducational colleges in focussing women's interests in the sciences suggests the need for closer study of the influence of higher education environments on sex differences. NOTE A slightly larger percentage of women than men has been enrolling in college since 1972 (NCES,1978, pp. 116-117) but the statements made are relevant for the doctoral population being considered in this report. 18