Monday, May 04, 2009

Law & Science

News articles and editorials about Obama's possible Supreme Court justice candidates show how much has changed for women lawyers and judges in recent decades. Reagan apparently didn't have a lot of options for women candidates when he selected Sandra Day O'Connor. Clinton had more options when he selected Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but the pool of possible women candidates was still small.

Today that is no longer the case. Obama has a wide range of choices among highly qualified women and men representing diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

If Obama selects a woman to replace Souter, it will be particularly interesting because less than 2 years ago Souter was quoted as saying that all the "top" applicants for law clerks that year were men. I was skeptical about this and used the incident to discuss the concept of "top" applicants in general.

Why has the number of women reaching the upper levels of the legal profession changed so much in the past 20 years but the same is not the case for science and engineering in academia, government, or the private sector? The number of women students has increased tremendously, but the ceiling or the leaking pipeline or whatever symbol you want to use to explain the lack of women full professors, deans, directors, presidents and so on still exists for women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.

Maybe there are so many differences between law and STEM that the question is pointless, but it caught my interest that one male dominated field changed so dramatically and another has not changed nearly as much.

Is part of the answer, at least in terms of comparing law with the physical sciences, that the legal profession has many more options and available positions, creating more opportunities?

When positions at a certain level are limited (Supreme Court law clerks and justices), however, and women are no longer the "top" candidates as often as men, do the differences between law and science diminish?

Mostly I am wondering, if it is reasonable to make any comparison between law and science, whether there is something we can learn from the evolution of the legal profession in recent decades that would help increase the number of women who choose and succeed in professions involving science, technology, engineering, and math or whether the differences are intrinsic to each field.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

Law:
4 years for BS
3 years in law school
$100,000 job waiting for you at age 25 (woohoo!)

STEM fields:
4 years for BS
4-6 years for PhD
2-3 years of postdoc hell
1-2 years of additional postdoc hell after failed job search
$50,000 job waiting for you (and the other 300 applicants for the same job) at age ca. 32

What? Women aren't flocking to STEM fields? What's wrong with them?

Anonymous said...

"Why has the number of women reaching the upper levels of the legal profession changed so much in the past 20 years but the same is not the case for science and engineering in academia, government, or the private sector?"

What's the data for believing this? What level are you counting as the "upper levels of the legal profession?" What level is the "upper level of the science profession?" I ask because I once did the calculation, of the % of women partners at Amlaw 100 (i.e. big) law firms and the % of women professors at R1 medical schools, and found them to be almost shockingly similar (I think it was 10%). (Oh, I think I might have also done CEO of fortune 500 companies and came up with the same number).

There is conscious affirmative action at the very highest levels of government, under some administrations (i.e. it was not irrelevant that Condi Rice was a black woman in her choice as Secretary of State, even under a Republican/Bush administration). This form of affirmative action (and I am fully supportive, so I don't mean to use the word in a derogatory form) increases ratios in the "highest" levels of government.

thm said...

Even "closer to home," than law, the biological sciences seem to have done something right from which perhaps the physical sciences could learn. Veterinary school is nearly 80% women these days, and has been majority women for long enough that I think there are more women practicing veterinarians than men. A far cry from James Herriot's days.

Perhaps, like with law, the variety of fully professional career options that are open to DVM and MD degree holders is part of the balance. Would one then expect that chemistry and computer science would fare better than physics, mathematics, and the geophysical sciences?

Cloud said...

@anonymous #1- you forgot to include debt in your calculations. Lawyers pay for law school. Physical scientists, by and large, get paid (a small amount) to go to grad school. I finished my schooling with a whopping $700 of debt.

I have never felt that I didn't make enough money in my profession. I make enough for a comfortable lifestyle. Sure, I'd probably make more as a lawyer, but money is not the only thing that matters.

I also suspect the only jobs you are considering for STEM are academic. I know this is an academic blog, but there are STEM jobs in industry. I don't think it is as bad as you make out.

FSP- I think part of the problem is that it is hard for women at the start of their careers to imagine how they are going to fit in anything BUT a career (be that children, a significant hobby, whatever). When I was in grad school, the prevailing opinion was that it was really, really hard to mix a scientist career with motherhood. Now that I'm doing exactly that I wish I could go back to visit my grad school self and tell her not to worry so much. It is working out just fine.

Ms.PhD said...

@thm, your statement about "biological science" is an over-generalization. Biology is still 2-3x more male professors than female.

Vet school is viewed like nursing school and dental school: for men, they are 2nd rate alternatives to med school. For women, they offer a more welcoming atmosphere.

@anon: in biology, it's more like 4 years x2 for postdoc hell, and NO JOB waiting for you at age ca. 35-40
(on average)

FSP, I hope you get some useful feedback to the questions you raised on this post, either through the comments or your own research. I am curious to know if we can learn anything from other fields.

I always wonder if it has to do with having more concrete, defined expectations and the way performance is evaluated (independent vs. teamwork)? ...Teamwork often leading to women's contributions being underestimated in science... Etc.

Or maybe it really is just the lifestyle choice that Anon suggests, there is too much cultural pressure against women who want to be scientists, not just from within scientist but from society in general, too.

And what about lawyers on tv...? Ally McBeal?

Hope said...

When I was in grad school, the prevailing opinion was that it was really, really hard to mix a scientist career with motherhood.

I accept that this was Cloud’s personal experience, but why would it be any easier to “mix” a career as a lawyer, doctor, CEO, etc., with motherhood? If anything, to me it seems that the more flexible schedule that academia offers in comparison to these other professions would make it easier, not harder.

Women may not have achieved parity with men in the upper levels of law, medicine, or biology, but at least at the student level, it’s close to 50% women, no? This will undoubtedly make a difference down the line. In STEM fields, you’re lucky if 20% of the students are women. This has been my experience as a grad student in this area.

So, why the big difference (STEM fields vs. other areas)? I would really love to know, because the reasons that are often trotted out as explanations—academia is not flexible or family-friendly enough—I just don’t buy. There are other career options out there for people with hard science backgrounds. Don’t get me wrong, I think that academia, and other professions, should be more accommodating of people having a life outside of work. Such flexibility benefits everyone, not just parents. But I am tired of people promoting things like flex-time by saying that it will lead to an increase of women in STEM fields. Where is the evidence for this?

Megan said...

Anonymous (#1): I spent 5 years getting a BS in chemical engineering, and the median starting salary is about 55k per year. Before the economy went bad just these last 2 years, nearly every senior at my college would have a job lined up 6 months before graduation. Actually, it's one of the reasons I went for engineering. Even though I plan to go to grad school eventually, plenty of engineers make decent money with only a BS degree. With law and medicine, you can't really make much without the grad school.

Cloud said...

@Hope, I don't think I explained myself well. I,in fact, agree that their are problems in combining motherhood with career for almost any type of career. I think every career path presents problems that are hard for someone not on that path to understand, so it is easy to look from where you are and think "oh, that other job would be easier." A case in point is the number of people who think elementary school teaching is really easy to combine with motherhood. If you talk to some actual elementary school teachers, they will quick disabuse you of that notion.

My point was, that since the difficulty of combining motherhood and science is advanced as a potential reason for the "leaky pipeline", it becomes a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy by freaking out women early in their careers. I personally haven't had anywhere near the problems I expected when I was looking ahead from grad school, and am actually a pretty happy working mother.

I will say, though, that in my unscientific sampling of friends who are both mothers and scientists, those of us in industry have actually had an easier time of it, or at least seem less conflicted about our arrangements. My sample size is too small to draw any conclusions from that, though.

In my experience, flex time is always a good thing for working parents. But I thought it was a good thing when I was a single, childless person, too.

Eve said...

I was recently talking with my brother about an issue I had with my supervisor the other day, and I believe the quote from him was "I would have punched him 17 times by now" (but not seriously, of course). So maybe we're less confrontational when things don't go our way? It might be an issue of "managing" our supervisors; mine tends to be absent-minded and if I'd been more pushy about certain things, I don't think I would have been in the situation that would have prompted my brother to go into punching mode.

Emily said...

Actually, I was listening to NPR discussing the anonymous donations to many universities recently, all targeted at universities with women preseidents, and I thought, "Wow -- there are a lot more women presidents of universities than there used to be." Which is true. But the numbers are still awfully small.

I think the same thing is happening with top women in the legal profession -- enough to make an impressive sounding list on NPR, but not so many as to actually be a large percentage of their peer group.

Anonymous said...

I'm not convinced that Obama's potential choice of a woman supreme court justice means that women's roles in the legal profession have far outpaced those of women in science. If you're looking at Supreme Court appointments, all three justices appointed after Ginsburg (in 1993) have been men. If Obama appoints a woman to the bench, it will bring the ratio to (temporarily, perhaps) to 2 women out of 9 justices. And as Anon @ 8:25 points out, women partners at top firms are rare.

In science, Obama recently appointed 20 members to his advisory council on Science and Technology (PCAT). Five of the 20 are women.

And in business, we've recently been reminded that top women are also lagging: there was much celebration when just 15 of the Fortune 500 companies were headed up by women execs.

Perhaps what we are seeing is that, when the government recognizes that gender parity is important, active steps can be taken to promote women in high ranking positions (bringing ratios up to 22 or 25%, as the case may be). However, a dearth of women in non-appointed positions doesn't mean there are no qualified candidates out there - they just haven't been promoted.

bob said...

My sister was a successful lawyer in Chicago. She has a lot of female lawyer friends. But, she looked around and saw hardly any female partners at any law firms. Seeing this, she left law for another field.

I should add that while she really liked most of her co-workers at the law firm she was in, nonetheless even the ones she liked were fairly sexist, for example making sexist jokes in her presence. And these were the ones she got along with, let alone the ones who were outright jerks.

I'm a male science professor, and I totally agree that STEM fields have a long way to go as far as encouraging women. But I don't have a very good impression of law either.

tideliar said...

@ MsPhD:
Vet school is viewed like nursing school and dental school: for men, they are 2nd rate alternatives to med school. For women, they offer a more welcoming atmosphere.What complete and utter pants! How daft is that logic? What on earth causes you to say that? Sweeping, and illogical, generalizations aside, perhaps one difference is target population when choosing between Vet & MD? Maybe?

FSP: could this apparent pronounced gender gap be due to high schooling? Girls traditionally are steered away from math & science from an early age leading fewer to go to do it at college (potentially) or to consider it for a career choice. Whereas one gets into law school with a humanities background.

Also, there is only one path for a scientists to take (currently) if they wish to follow the academic tenure track; whereas lawyers have vastly more options for their careers, a lot of which can ultimately lead to leading teaching/Justice positions.

yolio said...

I feel like women are very unwelcome in science. Or maybe the word is unwelcomed. Science can be a really challenging job, emotionally and otherwise. The only way to survive, much less thrive, is to have a network of mentors and peers that encourage you, push you, help you and give you a sense of comraderie and shared mission. Women are far less likely to be included in these networks.

Mentors tend to adopt people who they can "see themself" in. So the population of white men self-replicates a new population of younger white men. And women are just neglected and permitted to fall between various cracks. People also have a hard time "seeing" a competent, capable scientist in a woman's body. And then, if that isn't enough, many men scientists just altogether avoid women because they are afraid they can't interact with a woman without accidentaly hitting on her and ending up in trouble. (Lame, but totally true.)

FemaleScienceGrad said...

Cloud said:
When I was in grad school, the prevailing opinion was that it was really, really hard to mix a scientist career with motherhood. Now that I'm doing exactly that I wish I could go back to visit my grad school self and tell her not to worry so much. It is working out just fine.I am a woman in grad school in a physical science, and this is definitely the prevailing opinion in my department, too. I try not to agonize over it, but I have the distinct impression that I will have to make a choice in the next 5-10 years between a career and motherhood, and that this is, frustratingly, a choice that men in general do not have to make.

I'm glad to hear it works out for some women, but what about the studies showing that women with children are much less likely to achieve tenure than women without children and men with or without children? (e.g. http://chronicle.com/free/v50/i15/15a00101.htm).

I assume that similar patterns apply outside of academia, too, but in a long-term case of navel-gazing, the academy has provided many such studies of itself over the years.

I do not personally know a single women who is successfully combining motherhood with a higher-level academic career, and it is difficult for me to imagine what this might look like. (On the other hand, I know a lot of men scientists with babies. Most of them have wives who work part time or not at all.)

Is it surprising that we worry?

Cloud, or FSP, please tell me something that will make me worry less.

Anonymous said...

I'm irritated by the whole "science pays nothing and is hard so women are too smart to do it" argument some of the above commenters made.

on the money junk:
- Grad students make little but are PAID to go to grad school unlike every other profession. I will be debt-free when I graduate.
- Post-docs and full time researchers (jobs you can get with the PhD) are paid well. In a 2 earner household, you can live quite comfortably in most areas (purchase house, etc).
- Lawyers that graduate in less than the top 10% of their class and/or don't go into corporate law do not make nearly $100k/year.
- arguing about the salary for a free market job vs. an academic job ignores the security tenure gives over every other job.

This all ignores the fact that good career choices have little to do with money. Once one is over that "able to live comfortably" hump (certainly professor or even postdoc qualifies), then career decisions ought to be entirely based on how satisfying the job is, if one wants to have the happiest life possible.

I don't understand the American ideal of doing something one hates for many years so one can make more money so that one can do nothing (retire) sooner. I'd rather do something I love for my entire life. Can someone please explain why this is not valued??

Anonymous said...

I agree with Ms PhD and yolio. I think science has a culture that is unwelcoming to many women.

Moreover money IS a problem. I recently won an overseas postdoc position which would essentially have set me up in a science career, and which I would have loved. I was forced to turn it down as the stipend was only enough for a single person (by the reckoning of the institution), and not enough to support someone with a partner and children. I was also told later that they had serious doubts whether a woman with "a very young family" would be able to carry out the work.

Comrade Physioprof said...

When positions at a certain level are limited (Supreme Court law clerks and justices), however, and women are no longer the "top" candidates as often as men, do the differences between law and science diminish?They sure as shit do. There are very few women partners at large law firms, and almost no women heads of firms.

Cloud said...

Blogger just did something very odd. FSP, if this is a duplicate post, please just delete it.

@FemaleScienceGrad- I would say look at FSP. She seems quite successful and has a child who (by FSP's stories, anyway) seems happy and well-adjusted.

My personal example is less useful for you, but I'll give it. My undergrad degree is in a physical science, my grad degree is in a biophysical science, and I now work at the intersection of biology and computers. I am not in academia, though, and haven't been since grad school. (I do know a couple of professors with kids, but I won't presume to tell their stories). I left academia primarily because industry better suited my interests.

I have a toddler and am pregnant with baby #2. I have not felt that my career has suffered from my decision to reproduce- at least not yet.

My #1 piece of advice to a young woman would be to pick your partner carefully. I mean that seriously. Things work well for me in a large part because my partner and I both view each other as equal partners in parenting and in life. When one of us has a career/parenthood conflict we resolve it as a team. My husband also does equal housework, and just assumes that this is how it should be (really, he came that way). The housework thing can be finessed by hiring a house cleaner, but the equal parent thing is crucial.

Next I would say that you should trust yourself. You are a smart, resourceful person. You will work out the logistical problems that working parenthood presents. This is what I really didn't understand when I was in grad school looking forward. I'm a problem solver by nature- I think most scientists are. Working motherhood has definitely thrown up some big problems for me and my husband to solve. But somehow, we have solved them all. I am just now starting to trust this and believe that we'll be able to solve the problems that the future holds.

Unless you currently spend a lot of time sitting around staring into space, something will "give" out of your life when you have kids, but don't assume that it has to be your career. For some people it will be career. For me, it was my hobbies and travel. I've kept only the bare minimum of those, and haven't really missed what I've given up. All those people who told me that my priorities would change when I had kids were right- my priorities did change. But that didn't bump my career off the list. It bumped kickboxing, fiddle playing, baking, and hanging out at the pub (and probably some other things, too).

Finally, you can bail at anytime. Why not try and see how far you get?

Kevin said...

FemaleScienceGrad wrote:
I do not personally know a single women who is successfully combining motherhood with a higher-level academic career, and it is difficult for me to imagine what this might look like.I don't know many single moms doing well in any career path. I do know several married (and even divorced) female professors with children who are doing quite well in science and engineering fields.


thm wrote
Would one then expect that chemistry and computer science would fare better than physics, mathematics, and the geophysical sciences?
Computer science is not doing very well in getting women into full professorships.
The annual Taulbee survey from
http://www.cra.org/ provides plenty of data that the problem persists.

FemaleAssistantProf said...

A great talk by Nancy Hopkins (MIT) about the state of women faculty at MIT in the last 50+ years (titled 'mirages of equality') can be found online here

http://www.princeton.edu/WebMedia/lectures/

Totally 100% recommended.

Anonymous said...

I have had several conversations with the male graduate students in my physical science lab about my trepidation about balancing a (hopefully) academic career and a family. To my half-joking comment that I'd need a house-husband, I was surprised to find that the prospect of being a stay at home dad/working part-time appealed to some of the male graduate students (just in theory perhaps?).

The other side of that coin seems to be- would women like to have a career and be married to a largely stay at home dad?

FemaleScienceGrad said...

@Cloud:

Thanks for your response, for sharing your experiences and your advice. At this particular point in my life, it is hard for me to have much faith that I can get to where you or FSP is. But I am not giving up yet.

Anonymous said...

For FemaleScienceGrad, this is a pdf of a book which summarises the careers of 64 women who have combined science and motherhood in different ways. So it is very possible!

http://www.york.ac.uk/res/chong/pdfs/MothersInScience_bk_finalWeb.pdf

Hope you like it!

Dr Spouse said...

I think it is partly career issues but it is also early prejudice - girls are not expected to be good at science, while both girls and boys are expected to be good at something involving knowledge and linguistic wrangling.

Women are moving to the top in non-physical sciences and in humanities academic fields, which should have similar problems if it's just a career path issue. They still aren't massively well-represented - so, in medical-allied professions that are 99% female on the ground, at least 20% of professors are male. In my field, our students are 75% female and our professors 75% male but used to be 90% male.

unlikelygrad said...

The other side of that coin seems to be- would women like to have a career and be married to a largely stay at home dad?Why not?

My husband and I are playing tag-team with the kids. First I was the stay-at-home mom while he worked, now he's taken over as the at-home parents while I go back to grad school (and eventually go into academia, I hope).

I do not personally know a single woman who is successfully combining motherhood with a higher-level academic career, and it is difficult for me to imagine what this might look like.It's definitely possible. I know people who were doing it 30 years ago, and I've met a number of women who are doing it now. (These are people I've met in person, as opposed to the female science bloggers we all know and love.) I could link to their websites but I'm not sure they'd appreciate being singled out. I am surprised that there aren't any women like this at your university.

FemaleScienceGrad said...

@Anonymous 3:22:00
I was surprised to find that the prospect of being a stay at home dad/working part-time appealed to some of the male graduate students (just in theory perhaps?).Who are these men and how can I meet them?

@Anonymous 5:33:00

Thanks for the book link, I will share this with my female science grad friends!

Ms.PhD said...

@the comments re: stay-at-home dads. Yes, absolutely. But I've found that, for reasons I don't understand, while many younger men say this in grad school (any alternative to grad school sounds like a good one?), they actually don't want to go through with it when they graduate and feel they have career prospects of their own that they don't want to abandon.

@irritated anon: the point is, each of these stages of "training" that are "over the hump" of salary are different, and none of them are permanent until you're through the rest.

So grad school is quite a bit different than postdoc (or at least, it should be); junior professor is quite a bit different than postdoc (again, at least it should be); etc.

So we're almost talking about completely separate kinds of jobs, except that you have to do them in order. So it doesn't matter that I'd be better as a PI than I am at the bench, for example. I don't get to do the PI thing until I've proved I can do the bench thing better than anyone else. Which in some ways, doesn't entirely make sense.

And it's a HUGE gamble. It's all fine and good to say "so what, I'm enjoying myself" but I think in most jobs not every day is a great day, and many days are sucky days. Even if you LOVE your job. So to do that for, let's see, something like 14 years, only to end up with NO JOB WAITING FOR YOU and having to switch to something else entirely?

Not exactly a great career choice by any measure.

Anonymous said...

reg. stay-home dads. My husband now has, thanks to the economy, a second-tier job compared to mine, which allows him to be there every evening by 5, and allows me to travel freely. I've done more of that in the last 6 months than in the previous three years combined.
So right now I usually take care of them in the morning and drive them to preschool at 9, after lots of play, activities, etc., and he picks them up by 5 and does all sort of things with them before bedtime-- I get home after 7. There are two factors at play: I must admit that for us, as a couple it's been an adjustment, esp when he was unemployed. Somehow I preferred the career man....
The second point is: He has a wonderful relationship with the kids, to the point that they want him for bedtime stories or often when they're sick. Sometimes it hurts... I'd like to be doing more. But now, being the main breadwinner, I feel even more pressure to be promoted, get raises, have a career that's perceived as successful and competitive (as opposed to simply doing good science without looking for the spotlight).

Albert said...

Dear FSP: I have come across the speech titled "Is there anything good about men?" at http://denisdutton.com/baumeister.htm , by Roy Baumeister. The author attempts to identify the origin of the differences at the "top" (and bottom) between men and women. I thought you'd find it worthy of comment.

TW Andrews said...

I think a lot of it has to do with remuneration and tenure.

The relatively higher pay for lawyers will draw more heavily from the pool of talented women and tenure means that there is relatively less turnover.

This is a bit less true for positions such as Supreme Court Justice, because one of the paths to being a top candidate involves the federal judiciary where appointees also have lifetime tenure.

Feminist Chemists said...

This is a great discussion. My take on it is that there are two main differences: Academia and overhead.
In the law, your financial overhead is more reasonable, so it isn't that hard to start your own business if all the men are jackasses in your field. In STEM, you need a research lab and a huge amount of equipment. If you hate all of your male colleagues, it is pretty hard just to set up shop on your own.
Second, academia changes at a glacial pace because of the tenure system. In contrast, in the (somewhat) free market, market forces kick out the incompetent, mediocre men when brilliant women come along to replace them. In academia, the market forces don't exist, and a bunch of old, white dudes get to stay in power way past their prime. I think that tenure should be abolished. In industry, (at least in big pharma), women represent a higher percentage of the employees and are treated much better than in academia. So that points to the idea that the free market works and Academia doesn't.