Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Women As Bad Investments

It's taking me a while to read through the whole report recently released by the NAS on the lack of women scientists and engineers, but I like what I've read so far (I am part way through Chapter 3). Even though the results are mostly obvious to women who are already deep into a career as a scientist or engineer, it's still nice to see it written out.

For example, this is what I and others who have commented on my blog have been talking about recently:

".. on average, people are less likely to hire a woman than a man with identical qualifications, are less likely to ascribe credit to a woman than to a man for identical accomplishments, and when information is scarce, will far more often give the benefit of the doubt to a man than to a woman. Although most scientists and engineers believe that they are objective and intend to be fair, research shows that they are not exempt from those tendencies."

Will anyone recognize themselves in this and change their wayward and discriminatory behavior? I do not believe so. I do have some hope, however, that the recommendations that administrators and funding agency directors take specific actions might have some effect, especially if there is accontability and if there are more women in these positions.

So, overall, I like the report very much. I like seeing forceful statements and calls to action. And graphs. I really like graphs, even when they are scary.

It is a weird feeling to see that I belong to such an exclusive set: in my field, < 5% of full professors at research universities are women (and the number is lower at my university). I participated in the survey that went into the database that is graphed, so I really am in there. Does that mean there is something strange and/or lucky about me that got me here? I use the word lucky to indicate that I really do love my job, however much time I spend dealing with (and complaining about) obstacles and jerks. I am really not a very aggressive or competitive person, so am not especially 'male' in my personality. I can be quite assertive (which I think is more elegant than being aggressive), and I love research and teaching, so I have never been (too) tempted to give up. And I've been lucky.

7 comments:

Pam said...

I just made it through about half of the report - and while I like seeing it written down, it's so similar to what I experience in the trenches every day, that it's hard to enjoy (or perhaps it was just boring?). I did like that they added the theories on discrimination - and often I've felt that we need to get at the core of this behavior in a fundamental way before progress will be made.

Anyway, I'm guessing that you are where you are less because of luck (using the traditional definition, not yours!), and more because of hardwork, intelligence, and passion. I feel the same way - my job drives me crazy (as you mentioned, the 'obstacles and jerks') but I couldn't imagine doing anything else. I've never been tempted to give up either, although I'd love to get more sleep...

Anonymous said...

Please, please tell me that I misunderstood. That the percentage of women full professors in, say, mathematics at a research univ (as described on p. 14 of the NAS report) is somewhat below 10 percent and not somewhat below 0.1 percent.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read the actual report, just the summary in the Times, which I brought in for my (stereotypical, uber-aggressive alpha-male) professor to read. And he cedes all the points, about pervasive bias, but then asks me "Well, so what should *I* do about it?" And I'm not so sure what to tell him concretely...his bias is actually to hire women--attactive women...

Dr. Shellie said...

Anonymous #2-- you can tell him that one of the most important things he can do is to promote his own female students. Introduce them to senior people in the field, point out their accomplishments, highlight their good points. Reseach on gender schemas has shown that negative stereotypes in initial impressions can to a large extent be mitigated when a woman is introduced by a senior person who vouches for her competence. (See Virginia Valian's gender tutorials pages, or "Why So Slow?"). Of course, it's a little difficult to tell your own advisor this! But perhaps you can plant some of the research reports on his desk? (Or mention it in casual conversation.)

Ms.PhD said...

I like the report, but I suspect none of the men who should be reading it will read it unless absolutely forced to do so.

I also wanted *more* graphs, if anything, and *more* references to hard data. There were more anecdotal, unsupported examples than I would have liked for some points that I think are critical evidence of what it's actually like 'in the trenches.' The men I know who need convincing are much more convinced by data than they are, understandably, by unattributed anecdotes.

I can't imagine how you're never tempted to give it up. I must have had too much exposure to other options, in fields where I had more encouragement from my instructors. I probably spend too much time wondering if I'd be putting up with the same kinds and amount of crap if I had chosen one of those other careers instead of this one.

Anonymous said...

I'd never hire a female engineer because all they do is whine about being a female engineer. Engineering is one of those things that need to be done correctly, coldly or people die. Feminist politics has no place in bridge design.

FemaleScienceInstructor said...

The problem is that the men doing the hiring just don't see themselves as biased. I was interviewed for a job teaching my field of study, and the other two candidates were male. One of them got the job - despite not specialising in the field he was to teach (he actually had to sit through the current prof's version of the course to learn the material - it was only second year undergrad!) and having less teaching experience. But he fit in with the department better. Small wonder as they were all married males with kids just like him. (And, to be honest, having sat through some later searches in this dept., I think the married bias factored as heavily as the male bias.)

How do I know this? I was offered a temporary job at the same time. Fortunately, I proved good enough to be made permanent a year later, but I still have less seniority than my male colleague (since the one year contract doesn't really "count") - and I still keep having to teach him the material before he teaches it to students. What made it worse was that, about a year later, while the dept. was hiring again, I got to hear a male prof. reassuring my colleague that "don't worry; we always hire the best candidate regardless of gender". I nearly hit the roof that day.