More Women in Science

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  19 Aug 2005:
Vol. 309, Issue 5738, pp. 1190-1191
DOI: 10.1126/science.1113252

It has been 25 years since Congress passed the Women in Science and Technology Equal Opportunity Act [HN1], which declares it “the policy of the United States that men and women have equal opportunity in education, training, and employment in scientific and technical fields (1).” Although there have been major advances, academic institutions are still not fully utilizing the pool of women scientists they have produced. The difference between the proportions of women who earn Ph.D.'s and those who are in faculty positions at top universities is clear in the biological and physical sciences, as well as in engineering (see table below).

Recently, much has been made of biological differences between men and women that might affect their representation in science. [HN2] Although there is a substantive body of evidence indicating that overall intelligence does not differ between men and women, controversy persists as to whether specific aspects of cognitive ability differ (2, 3). A recent debate by experts illuminates the issues and provides a summary of the literature in the field (4). We chose not to discuss these possible differences here for a number of reasons. First, there is no ideal constellation of cognitive abilities required to be a scientist. To be successful, scientists need deductive reasoning abilities, verbal skills, quantitative reasoning, intuition, and social skills. Men and women may differ, on average, in some of these abilities, but that is not a basis on which we can predict success because different mixtures lead to diverse, yet successful, approaches and styles in science. Second, there is no convincing evidence that women's representation in science is limited by innate ability. Between 1970 and 2003 (a time too brief for observable changes in innate ability), there was a 30-fold increase in the proportion of Ph.D.'s granted to women in engineering. This was a time in which attitudes and laws pertaining to gender changed dramatically, which provides strong evidence of the cultural and structural impediments to women. In this Policy Forum, we focus on the cultural issues that manifest in the behaviors of individuals and the policies of institutions because these factors make a difference and can be changed.

Moral and legal imperatives to ensure equal opportunity provide sufficient reasons to examine the causes of the disparities and to attempt to rectify them. Equally compelling is the impact that equity will have on the quality of our universities and the competitiveness of our nation. Heterogeneity among students, faculty, and staff strengthens universities in fundamental ways (5, 6). Heterogeneous groups design more innovative solutions to problems than do homogeneous ones (6, 7) and bring a higher level of critical analysis to decisions (6, 8). Furthermore, institutions that welcome women foster more favorable working environments for all community members (9).[HN3]

The National Science Foundation (NSF) founded the ADVANCE Institutional Transformation Program [HN4] (10) to analyze the impact of interventions on advancement of women in science. Many universities have launched initiatives to enhance hiring, promotion, and productivity of women scientists, including Harvard University, which recently committed $50 million to this effort [HN5] (11). Initial results from the NSF ADVANCE sites and other universities suggest several strategies that appear to work (6). Detailed documentation can be found in the supporting online material.

Barriers and Strategies to Overcome Them The pipeline. The low number of women trained in certain fields is partially to blame for the paucity of women on the faculty. Nevertheless, many fields continue to suffer a faculty gender imbalance even though women compose from one-quarter to almost half of their graduating doctoral candidates (see table). Superb women scientists may not pursue academic careers simply because they are not encouraged to do so, question whether they have what it takes to be successful, or lack female role models who would help them envision themselves as faculty. Well-meaning advisers may interpret women's hesitation and concerns as disinclination and may fail to press their women students to consider academic careers. Explicit encouragement of outstanding doctoral candidates to enter the professoriate will help close the gap. Programs designed to prepare students to be faculty, such as those offered by many professional societies, universities, and private organizations (6), can provide access to role models and may inspire confidence and commitment (12).[HN6]

View this table:

To keep women moving through the pipeline to the senior ranks, they need sound advice about how best to invest their time as junior faculty. Women, more often than men, are asked to provide campus service on committees, as speakers, and as advisers to students (13). To assist junior faculty in managing pretenure activities, Georgia Tech ADVANCE Professor Jane Ammons [HN7] developed a “speed mentoring” workshop in which junior faculty members consult for 15 to 20 minutes with each of four experienced tenure case reviewers who identify gaps and offer suggestions for strengthening the tenure case.

Climate. Many women attribute their exit from the academy to hostility from colleagues and a chilly campus climate (14). This atmosphere is invisible to many men, who typically describe a better climate for women than women report experiencing, as indicated by faculty surveys at MIT, Princeton, the University of Michigan, and the University of Wisconsin [HN8] (6). Campus-wide programs to educate members of the community can identify and help eliminate discrimination in hiring and promotion, sexual harassment, and other illegal behaviors (6, 15). Faculty members can assist by becoming educated about these behaviors and then taking steps to discourage them, including supporting women who voice concerns about illegal behavior.

Far more pervasive are the subtle effects of exclusion from the department community and its decision-making processes and the slights, ridicule, and attention to women's sexuality in professional settings. Although these behaviors may seem innocuous in isolation, the cumulative effect can be devastating (6, 16). University administrators can set a campus standard in fostering inclusivity. Programs to train department chairs to recognize and combat the isolation experienced by women may transform local environments. The University of Michigan's ADVANCE program developed an interactive theater program [HN9] that portrays typical academic situations and engages academic audiences in discussion that helps them recognize interpersonal behaviors that affect climate (6).

Unconscious bias. People who are committed to egalitarian principles and believe that they are not biased may nevertheless unconsciously or inadvertently behave in discriminatory ways [HN10] (6, 17-19). When evaluators rated writing skills, resumes, journal articles, and career paths, they gave lower ratings on average if they were told that the subject of evaluation was a woman (6). A study of postdoctoral fellowships awarded by the Medical Research Council of Sweden found that women candidates needed substantially more publications to achieve the same competency rating as men [HN11] (18). On the basis of results in other fields, it might be wise for scientists to consider ways to mask applicant gender. For example, introducing a screen to obscure the gender of musicians auditioning for symphony orchestra positions increased the likelihood that a woman was selected by 30 to 60% [HN12] (20).

A number of interventions undertaken through the ADVANCE programs are predicated on the supposition that unconscious bias can be redressed by awareness. The University of Wisconsin—Madison has designed workshops to train search committees in good search methods and to sensitize them to bias [HN13] (6). In these workshops, faculty members are encouraged to recruit women by deliberate action to overcome unconscious biases and to cultivate professional relationships with promising women scholars at professional meetings. Martell (21) showed that sex bias emerged when evaluators were under time pressure and distracted. Consequently, the search committee training includes reminding participants of the time required to conduct a thorough review and encouraging them to devote sufficient time to the evaluation of each individual to prevent assumptions from substituting for data. Georgia Tech has developed a Web-based computer instrument, Awareness of Decisions in Evaluating Promotion and Tenure (ADEPT) [HN14], to aid promotion and tenure committee members, chairs, and deans to understand biases related to gender, race and/or ethnicity, disability, and interdisciplinarity. It consists of a downloadable application that contains case studies and summaries of scholarly research on bias and other materials to provoke discussion (6).

Balancing family and work. The responsibilities for family caretaking (for children and aging parents) continue to fall disproportionately on women (6). Young women can be encouraged by meeting or reading about prominent women scientists who have families and by learning about academic programs designed to reduce the conflicts between personal and professional life, including dual-career hiring programs, tenure clock extensions for childbirth and adoption, and on-campus lactation rooms and child care facilities. All members of the university community can advocate for such programs and can provide flexibility for colleagues with family responsibilities. [HN15]

Conclusion Institutional transformation necessitates collective examination of attitudes and the behaviors they spawn, which can be disquieting, because it requires engagement with issues of life-style, reproduction, hiring, and academic customs. Most uncomfortable is the discovery that we all harbor unconscious biases that can shape our behavior. Essential to the process is individual ownership of the blueprint for change. Strategies for this blueprint exist and are being tested, but systemic change can only be fostered if propelled by a vigilant and widespread campaign launched by tenacious women and men at all levels (6), and advocated by prominent leaders of our universities (22). Only such a campaign will fulfill the promise of the Science and Technology Equal Opportunities Act and will create a scientific community reflective of the pluralist society that supports it.

Supporting Online Material http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/309/5738/1190/DC1


HyperNotes Related Resources on the World Wide Web

General Hypernotes

Web Collections, References, and Resource Lists

The Google Directory provides links to Internet resources on women in science and technology.

Women-Related Web Sites in Science/Technology is maintained by J. Korenman, Center for Women and Information Technology, University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Sigma Xi: The Scientific Research Society provides Internet links on diversity.

The Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute (WISELI), University of Wisconsin, provides links to Internet resources. A collection of references and Internet resources for this Policy Forum is provided.

The National Initiative for Women in Higher Education provides links to Internet resources.

PhDs.org provides links to Internet resources related to women and minorities in the sciences.

Organization Resources and Web Presentations

The University of Wisconsin's Why Files: The Science Behind the News offers a March 2005 presentation titled “Women in science: What are the obstacles?”

The American Association of University Professors provides a resource page on women in the academic profession.

The Association for Women in Science (AWIS) provides statistics and links to Internet resources

The Global Alliance for Diversifying the Science & Engineering Workforce is a collaborative initiative of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Women in Engineering Programs & Advocates Network, and the Association for Women in Science. A collection of Internet links is provided.

The UK Resource Centre for Women in SET is the official website funded by the Department of Trade and Industry as part of their Strategy for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology (SET).

The Committee on Women in Science and Engineering (CWSE) of the National Research Council provides information about its publications and current projects, as well as resources such as links to gender faculty studies at research institutions.

T. Vilis, Department of Physiology, University of Western Ontario, makes available presentations for a course on survival skills for graduate students.

V. Valian, Department of Psychology, Hunter College, presents Tutorials for Change: Gender Schemas and Science Careers.

General Reports and Articles

The NSF ADVANCE Project at the University of Michigan makes available in PDF format a 15 April 2005 New York Times article by S. Rimer titled “For women in sciences, slow progress in academia.”

Science's Next Wave offers features on diversity and work life. A series of 4 articles by C. A. Trower on women without tenure is available.

The 12 November 1999 issue of Science had a News Focus article by A. Lawler titled “Tenured women battle to make it less lonely at the top.”

The June 2002 issue of the HHMI Bulletin had an article by K. Brown titled “Accomplished women.”

The April 2005 issue of JOM had an article by M. Byko titled “Challenges and opportunities for women in science and engineering.”

The European Life Sciences Organization makes available a December 2002 article by D. Payne titled “Bridging the gender gap: How to stop women leaving research.”

Scientific American makes available a 27 April 1998 special Web report on women in science.

The 11 January 2002 issue of Science had a Policy Forum by N. Dewandre titled “European strategies for promoting women in science.”

Chemical and Engineering News offers a collection of articles on women in chemistry.

Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering is a 2004 report made available by the Division of Science Resources Statistics of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

SET Fair: A Report on Women in Science, Engineering, and Technology is a 2002 report prepared by S. Greenfield for the UK Department of Trade and Industry.

Available from the National Academies Press: a 2004 report Achieving XXcellence in Science: Role of Professional Societies in Advancing Women in Science: Proceedings of a Workshop, AXXS 2002; a 2001 report From Scarcity to Visibility: Gender Differences in the Careers of Doctoral Scientists and Engineers; a 2000 report Who Will Do the Science of the Future?: A Symposium on Careers of Women in Science; and a 2000 book The Door in the Dream: Conversations with Eminent Women in Science by E. Wasserman.

D. J. Nelson, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Oklahoma, makes available in PDF format her 2005 report of the Nelson Diversity Surveys titled “A national analysis of diversity in science and engineering faculties at research universities” (23).

The U.S. Government Accountability Office makes available in PDF format the July 2004 report titled “Gender issues: Women's participation in the sciences has increased, but agencies need to do more to ensure compliance with Title IX.”

Numbered Hypernotes

1. Women in Science and Technology Equal Opportunity Act. The Library of Congress's Thomas provides information about S. 568 (“Women in Science and Technology Equal Opportunity Act”). GPO Access provides the U.S. Code section of the enacted legislation.

2. Gender and science aptitude, and the recent Summers controversy. E. Spelke, Laboratory for Developmental Studies, Harvard University, makes available in PDF format a paper titled “Sex differences in intrinsic aptitude for mathematics and science: A critical review” (3). The Edge Web site makes available a May 2005 debate titled “The science of gender and science: Pinker vs. Spelke” (4). The Anita Borg Institute provides a chronicle of the controversy that arose from Harvard President Summers' remarks that innate differences between men and women might be one reason fewer women succeed in science and math careers. The 28 January 2005 issue of Science had a News of the Week article by A. Lawler titled “Summers's comments draw attention to gender, racial gaps.” The American Sociological Association makes available a 8 March 2005 news release titled “Statement of the American Sociological Association Council on the causes of gender differences in science and math career achievement: Harvard's Lawrence Summers and the ensuing public debate” (2). The July-August 2005 issue of Academe included a statement titled “The AAUP's Committee on Women responds to Lawrence Summers.” WISELI provides a resource page on the controversy.

3. The value of diversity to institutions. Diversity Web is an interactive resource hub for higher education; a section on faculty/staff development is included. The 31 August 2001 issue of Science had an News article by C. M. Rey titled “Making room for diversity makes sense.” WISELI makes available in PDF format a publication titled “Benefits and challenges of diversity.” The Educational Value of Diversity is a presentation of the University of Michigan; a collection of Web resources is provided. Brown University's Plan for Academic Enrichment includes a section on diversity. The March-April 2002 issue of Harvard Magazine had an article by C. A. Trower and R. P. Chait titled “Faculty diversity.” L. Cortina, Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, makes available in PDF format a 2004 article by K. Miner-Rubino and L. M. Cortina titled “Working in a context of hostility toward women: Implications for employees' well-being” (9).

4. NSF's ADVANCE Institutional Transformation Program. NSF provides information about ADVANCE. WISELI provides links to NSF ADVANCE programs at universities. An ADVANCE Portal Web site is maintained by the Virginia Tech ADVANCE program. The 21 July 2000 issue of Science had a News Focus article by J. Mervis titled “NSF searches for right way to help women”; the 16 March 2001 issue had a News of the Week article by J. Mervis titled “NSF program targets institutional change.” Science's Next Wave makes available a 27 September 2002 article by M. Kempf titled “EmPOWREment and ADVANCEment for women.” The July-August 2003 issue of Academe had an article by S. V. Rosser about NSF programs titled “Attracting and retaining women in science and engineering.”

5. Harvard's initiative. The 20 May 2005 issue of Science had a News of the Week article by A. Lawler titled “Harvard pledges $50 million to boost diversity on campus.” The 16 May 2005 issue of the Harvard University Gazette had an press release titled “Harvard Task Forces on Women release findings and recommendations” with links to the two reports and to the statement by President Lawrence H. Summers and Provost Steven E. Hyman. The March-April 2005 issue of Harvard Magazine had an article titled “Gender gap”; the July-August 2005 issue had an article titled “Engineering equity.”

6. Encouraging women to pursue academic careers. A directory of organizations encouraging women in science and engineering is provided by CWSE. The University of Michigan Graduate School makes available in PDF format a guide titled “How to mentor graduate students: A guide for faculty in a diverse university.”

7. Jane Ammons of Georgia Tech's ADVANCE program is a professor in the School of Industrial and Systems Engineering.

8. Surveys of academic climate. AWIS provides information about its academic climate project. B. R. Sandler, Women's Research and Education Institute, makes available a collection of publications headed “The chilly climate: How men and women are treated differently in classrooms and at work.” WISELI provides links to faculty surveys and reports and makes available the survey form used for its study of faculty worklife. Assessing the Academic Work Environment for Women Scientists and Engineers is a September 2002 report in PDF format made available by the NSF ADVANCE Project at the University of Michigan. The Office of Communications, Princeton University, makes available the 2003 report of the Task Force on the Status of Women Faculty in the Natural Sciences and Engineering at Princeton. The 3 October 2003 issue of Science had a News of the Week article by A. Lawler titled “Princeton study strikes sad but familiar chord.” The March 1999 issue of the MIT Faculty Newsletter had a special report on “A Study on the Status of Women Faculty in Science at MIT”; a 2002 update to the study is available.

9. Interactive theater program. The University of Michigan's NSF ADVANCE Project provides information about its interactive theater program.

10. Unconscious bias. J. F. Dovidio, Department of Psychology, University of Connecticut, makes available in PDF format a 2002 article by J. F. Dovidio, K. Kawakami, and S. L. Gaertner titled “Implicit and explicit prejudice and interracial interaction.” The Fall 1999 issue of the Indiana Law Journal had an article (PDF format) by A. L. Wax titled “Discrimination as accident” and a response by M. Selmi.

11. Swedish study. The Working Committee for the Advancement of Women in Science of the Max Planck Society makes available the 22 May 1997 Nature article by C. Wennerås and A. Wold titled “Nepotism and sexism in peer-review” (18). Information about this study is provided in CHANCE News 6.07. The NaturalSCIENCE Web site makes available an article about this research by S. Lee titled “Bias in peer review.”

12. Blind audition. C. Goldin, Department of Economics, Harvard University, makes available in PDF format a preprint of the September 2000 American Economic Review article by C. Goldin and C. Rouse titled “Orchestrating impartiality: The effect of ‘blind’ auditions on female musicians” (20).

13. Workshops for search committees. WISELI provides information on the workshops for search committee members, as well as other resources for hiring committees.

14. Georgia Tech's ADEPT (Awareness of Decisions in Evaluating Promotion and Tenure) consists of a downloadable application that contains case studies and related activities appropriate for group discussion or individual use by candidates, members of committees, and other faculty.

15. Balancing family and work. Links to resources on balancing family and work life are provided by WISELI. The November-December 2004 issue of Academe was a special issue on balancing faculty careers and family work. The American Association of University Professors provides a resource page on balancing family and academic work. Creating Options: Models for Flexible Faculty Career Pathways is a project of the American Council on Education. Science's Next Wave offers a January 2004 feature on scientists as parents. The 17 December 2004 issue of Science had a News Focus article by Y. Bhattacharjee titled “Family matters: Stopping tenure clock may not be enough.”

16. Jo Handelsman is in the Department of Plant Pathology and at the Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute (WISELI), University of Wisconsin-Madison. Nancy Cantor is Chancellor and President of Syracuse University. Molly Carnes is at WISELI, and in the Department of Medicine and at the Center for Women's Health Research, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Denice Denton is Chancellor of the University of California, Santa Cruz. Eve Fine and Jennifer Sheridan are at WISELI. Barbara Grosz is the Higgins Professor of Natural Sciences, Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University. Virginia Hinshaw is Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor of the University of California, Davis. Cora Marrett is Senior Vice President and Deputy President of the University of Wisconsin System. Sue Rosser is Dean of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, Georgia Institute of Technology. Donna Shalala is President of the University of Miami.

References and Notes

Navigate This Article