Thursday, June 19, 2008

Women in Science

A few weeks ago, two of my neighbor's daughters were playing out of the sidewalk, and they were pretending to be grown-ups. As I stopped to chat, I asked them what profession they were in, and the enthusiastic response was Science Professor and Motorcycle Builder. I was pretty impressed with these answers, because when I was little, I only really thought of pink-collar jobs like teaching and nursing.

However, if the current climate in male-dominated industries, particularly science and engineering, continues, I hope these girls would have the fortitude to resist the harassment and discrimination that they would undoubtedly face. First, there are the assumptions, a la Larry Summers, that women are just innately bad at math and science. Second, there are the obstacles faced by women as minorities in these fields. To wit, today's column in the Chronicle of Higher Education's Wired Campus blog:

A new Harvard Business Review paper argues that women leave science and technology careers in droves because of “hostile macho cultures” and risk-taking incentives, among other reasons.

The report itself says nothing much new, particularly when compared to the research in Evelyn Murphy's Getting Even. But the worst part of this post is the comments that follow:

  1. So the problem is women won’t take risks, won’t spend enough time at work, choose unconventional and even ‘mysterious’ career paths, and don’t successfully fit into the workplace culture. My gosh, if I said that, I’d be branded a MCP!

    — Gerard Harbison, UNL Jun 18, 04:55 PM

  2. If they can’t stand the heat, they should get back to the kitchen.

    — Harry S Truman Jun 18, 09:12 PM

  3. As a former female tenure track professor who left a position due to harrassment and who is in the process of leaving another due to the “macho culture” in science I can say with no reservations that men think they know everything. They bond together to belittle females professors who have ideas and opinions regarding research and academia. They also act unfairly when conducting reviews and they gossip about their female colleagues. It is them, rather than us who should stay in the kitchen….then they can watch soap operas during the day and participate in the same small minded non-sense that I have experienced throughout my career as a scientist. Frankly, in a country like the USA I find it outrageous that the tenure track bully system is still in existence. Why don’t you academics wake-up and realize that this culture only hinders bright, talented people and the without us, the future of science in general will be harmed.

    — Kim Jun 18, 10:57 PM

The most bothersome part of this exchange (it gets worse as the comments continue) is that these are actual academics engaging in this childish anti-woman behavior. And they think it's funny! I have my own observations from my experience working in a university science department, and I was fortunate to work with a concerned and inclusive department chair. I did see the effects of discrimination on some women professors, one in particular when she came up for tenure.

Why do men persist in trying to keep women out of the sciences? As one Wired Campus commenter points out, they are hurting their own research by excluding women.

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