Status of Women Microbiologists

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Science  08 Feb 1974:
Vol. 183, Issue 4124, pp. 488-494
DOI: 10.1126/science.183.4124.488


The general picture that emerges from this study is that the woman microbiologist, upon entering the professional job market, faces (i) slower advancement; (ii) restricted extramural recognition; and (iii) fewer positions of a supervisory or administrative nature, when compared to men. Most striking is the salary differential, which increases with increasing educational level, with increasing rank, and with increasing seniority.

From the beginning of her professional training, the woman microbiologist feels handicapped by lack of encouragement and proper role models. She generally receives little advice regarding her professional future and rarely feels pushed to take the most challenging position. Should she be married, she feels that her mobility is severely restricted. Even though the subjective nature of these feelings may be interpreted as projections of failure, subtle inducements for women to stay at lower levels may well exist, in addition to more objective measurements, such as lower salary levels and slower professional advancement.

Despite these handicaps, professional women continue to work. As a group, they work for the same reasons that men do, they work as long and as hard as men do, and they remain at their positions as long as men do. Women and men rate themselves equally as to job performance, degree of independence, and publication rate.

On the basis of this study, it should not be surprising that women professionals are less visible than men and that only a small proportion of women become what is considered successful by the usual external criteria. If women were to receive continued encouragement, scientific contact, and professional recognition at each stage of their professional lives, they would undoubtedly become more visible.

The lack of encouragement and selfconfidence leading to isolation, which then leads to lack of recognition, is a vicious circle that must be broken for the woman professional. This can be done most easily for the beginning student. For older women, there must be increased placement in positions of responsibility and visibility. Protective practices that discourage women from entering arenas of competition can only be viewed as discrimination on the basis of sex, since women professionals are rarely given the choice between being protected and being independent.

Unexpectedly, this study illustrates the lower status of another group of individuals who are considered deviants from the expected roles of the established society—single men with doctorates, who were found in the positions predominately filled by women.

In conclusion, this study of a select group of scientists probably has general applicability to all women professionals in their roles vis-à-vis men. Examination and documentation of discriminatory practices based on sex points to the areas in which women must direct their demands for equality.