Women In Science and Engineering Stymied By Institutional Bias (Or, F*** Off, Larry Summers!)

| Tue Sep. 19, 2006 11:13 AM EDT

At a ASJA/Berkeley J-School editors' forum I participated in last weekend, a hotly debated topic was what biases do or do not hinder women in journalism, particularly in terms of the byline divide.

So I was shocked, shocked! to read that a report from the National Academy of Sciences has found that women in the science and engineering are hindered not by lack of ability but by bias and "outmoded institutional structures" in academia.

The NAS report found:

Studies have not found any significant biological differences between men and women in performing science and mathematics that can account for the lower representation of women in academic faculty and leadership positions in S&T fields.

Compared with men, women faculty members are generally paid less and promoted more slowly, receive fewer honors, and hold fewer leadership positions. These discrepancies do not appear to be based on productivity, the significance of their work, or any other performance measures, the report says.

•Measures of success underlying performance-evaluation systems are often arbitrary and frequently applied in ways that place women at a disadvantage. "Assertiveness," for example, may be viewed as a socially unacceptable trait for women but suitable for men. Also, structural constraints and expectations built into academic institutions assume that faculty members have substantial support from their spouses. Anyone lacking the career and family support traditionally provided by a "wife" is at a serious disadvantage in academe, evidence shows. Today about 90 percent of the spouses of women science and engineering faculty are employed full time. For the spouses of male faculty, it is nearly half.

You can read the news release here.

And—for a hefty fee that really pisses me off seeing as the whole point of something like this is to challenge disinformation with easily accessible truth—download the full report here. (Should someone find a site where this is posted for free, let me know and I'll pass it on.)

And you can read more about how women are stymied in other ways in "Limited Ambition: Why Women Can't Win for Trying" a set of stats I put together for Mother Jones earlier this year.

BTW: The NYT saw fit to run the story about the NAS report in the Science section, which is fine, except why do all those bullshitty (statistically and otherwise) stories about women "opting out" always run on page 1?