“In March 1999, MIT released the summary of an internal report on the status of women faculty in science that immediately drew national and international attention. Its central message was that gender discrimination is alive and well in elite science, although it takes a form quite different from what we typically recognize as discrimination. It is not a so much a matter of explicit and intentional marginalization as of innumerable small differences in treatment that can have substantial cumulative effects: a pattern of powerful but unrecognized attitudes and assumptions that work systematically against women despite good will. While this report has been received by many as a startling revelation about the gendered dynamics of science, it builds on an expansive body of research that documents what was identified, in the early 1980s as a chilly climate for women in science and academia more generally.” Wylie outlined the development of this research and discussed why the gender of science matters.
The MIT report came about after individual senior women faculty happened to come together and realized that what they thought were individual instances of less money, laboratory space and support were more universal across the campus than they realized. The key discoveries of the formal investigation were:
1.While each “microinequity” was beneath the threshold of detection or concern, the cumulative effect was systematic exclusion and marginalization and altered career trajectories for women.
2.There were clear differences by cohort over time, with the most senior women reporting the most problems. This didn’t seem to be a factor of the younger women having a more supportive climate, but rather that the older women “feeling positive, too, when they were young.” That is, the younger women had not yet been subject to the cumulative microinequities long enough for them to have taken their toll.
Chillying practices take three forms:
1.Gender stereotyping . Women are expected to take primary control of student affairs, but often have little impact on key decision making. Training often reinforces these stereotypes. For instance, in archeology, men are groomed for the most prestigious field work, while women are trained in laboratory procedures—demanding and exacting work, but with much lower salaries.
2.Differential patterns of valuation. Assertive behavior is considered a positive trait for men, but is often perceived as brassy or pushy in a woman. Identical resumes thought to belong to a James Moore are generally rated more highly than those attributed to Carol Moore. While women have lower publication rates than men, those publications are cited more frequently: 24 to 14 in one study. Why this is so is not well documented, but likely a result of women’s work being more synthetic (big picture vs. smallest publishable segments, more careful to stand up to scrutiny, and more comprehensive.
3.Practices of exclusion, which may be unintentional. For instance, women aren’t privy to the work related discussions that occur in locker rooms or at other social venues. Often, women are not invited to these after hour events and they feel awkward about inviting themselves.
For many years, the thought has been that if more women enter the “pipeline” they will reach enough of a critical mass to plug the leaks. This is not playing out yet and the pipeline analogy may be too simplistic. While the number of women in undergraduate SMET programs has increased dramatically, the % of women at each upper level remains similar. In fact, once women elect to pursue college level science, they have higher grades and completion rates, but lower rates of entry into master’s programs. Virginia Valian discusses this phenomenon in “Why so slow?”
Why does it matter if women aren’t faring as well in math and science? Wylie argues that is egregious that this injustice exists and persists in science which is held up as the ideal. And on a more practical note, the influx of international scientists has declined in recent years as programs at home universities develop and their prestige grows. Scientific fields simply cannot afford to continue deflecting this pool of trained, talented women. In addition, there is evidence that innovations are more likely among a diverse group than an homogeneous one. The story is likely more complex for women of color, but few studies have looked at this pool except to determine that Black women have the lowest retention rates in academia.
Wylie’s presentation was followed by brief commentary by Diane Murphy, former director of the Women’s Studies program, and Marina Artuso, Associate Professor of Physics and Co-Director of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program, both of Syracuse University. Murphy adds that women are “Doing science” and are also the ones that work to create maternity leave, health centers and day care options that make universities more family friendly to all. Women constantly need to educate their male and female peers about the sound reasoning behind these decisions which should be taken up institutionally. Artuso notes that WISE’s was created to educate SU on patterns of women at Syracuse. Since its creation, the numbers of women have increased, and the most current report will be entering its final editing shortly.
During the question and answer period, we learned one possible reason why there are so few studies that specifically address women of color: the administration requested that WISE’s proposal to study this particular group be expanded to include all women on campus. We also discussed the frustration felt when the numbers of women do increase in spite of patriarchal training, but the atmosphere remains the same. Wylie does worry about this type of socialization; leadership must be top-down as the changes benefit everyone, not just “the girls.”