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    Women In Science: No Discrimination, Says Cornell Study
    By News Staff | February 7th 2011 03:46 PM | 16 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    As the 21st century unfolds, if even one woman does not get a job, there will be claims of discrimination.   And some will believe discrimination occurs institutionally despite the evidence, and insist any action by individuals is proof of sexism.   That's the nature of humans being humans.

    But it's good to know the issue is still being addressed.   In a new study, "Understanding Current Causes of Women's Underrepresentation in Science" in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (freely available to read - http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/02/02/1014871108.abstract?sid=ec6ff688-b446-4fe1-bf54-bcb1d7765598), Cornell University social scientists, at least one who risks being immediately saddled with "white, male privilege" smears for daring to study the topic,  say institutional sexism is just not there any more.

    It's not discrimination in instances of different hiring, but rather differences in resources attributable to career and family-related choices that set women back in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, say Stephen J. Ceci, professor of developmental psychology, and Wendy M. Williams, professor of human development and director of the Cornell Institute for Women in Science, both in Cornell's College of Human Ecology.

    The "substantial resources" universities expend to sponsor gender-sensitivity training and interviewing workshops would be better spent on addressing the real causes of women's underrepresentation, Ceci and Williams say, through creative problem-solving and policy changes that respond to differing "biological and social realities" of the sexes.

    The researchers analyzed the scientific literature in which women and men competed for publications, grants or jobs in these fields. They found no systematic evidence of sex discrimination in interviewing, hiring, reviewing or funding when men and women with similar resources – such as teaching loads and research support – were compared.

    "We hear often that men have a better chance of getting their work accepted or funded, or of getting jobs, because they're men," Williams said. "Universities expend money and time trying to combat this rampant alleged discrimination against women in the hope that by doing so universities will see the numbers of women STEM scientists increase dramatically over coming years."

    The data show that women scientists are confronted with choices, beginning at or before adolescence, that influence their career trajectories and success. Women who prioritize families and have children sometimes make "lifestyle choices" that lead to them to take positions, such as adjunct or part-time appointments or jobs at two-year colleges, offering fewer resources and chances to move up in the ranks.


    These women, however, are not held back by sex discrimination in hiring or in how their scholarly work is evaluated. Men with comparably low levels of research resources fare equivalently to their female peers. Although women disproportionately hold such low-resource positions, this is not because they had their grants and manuscripts rejected or were denied positions at research-intensive universities due to their gender.

    Also, females beginning before adolescence often prefer careers focusing on people, rather than things, aspiring to be physicians, biologists and veterinarians rather than physicists, engineers and computer scientists. Efforts to interest young girls in these math-heavy fields are intended to ensure girls do not opt out of inorganic fields because of misinformation or stereotypes.

    Also, fertility decisions are key because the tenure system has strong disincentives for women to have children – a factor in why more women in academia are childless than men. Implementation of "flexible options" to enhance work-family balance may help to increase the numbers of women in STEM fields, the researchers say.

    As long as women make the choice and "are satisfied with the outcomes, then we have no problem," they write in the paper. "However, to the extent that these choices are constrained by biology and/or society, and women are dissatisfied with the outcomes, or women's talent is not actualized, then we most emphatically have a problem."

    The solution will only be possible if society focuses on changing the women's non-optimal choices and addressing unique challenges faced by female STEM scientists with children, the researchers say.

    Comments

    ArchyFantasies
    I am slightly disappointed at how the underlying sexism of the article seems to be missed. Blaming the victim doesn't make the sexism go away. Rather, I hope, it would make it more apparent.

    saying things like "females beginning before adolescence often prefer careers focusing on people, rather than things, aspiring to be physicians, biologists and veterinarians rather than physicists, engineers and computer scientists." and then barely paying lip service to the fact that these are societal pressures and expectations of a world saturated in sexism is just furthering the problem.

    When given opportunities to break the mold, many women do, unfortunately there isn't sufficient focus on this problem. Perhaps there is no Institutionalized sexism in the science field, but by the time women get to that level of their careers they have already been worn down by their schooling, their society, and their families.

    To quote Gloria Steinem, "I have yet to hear a man ask how to balance family and a career." And saying it's women's fault for doing so that holds them back is in itself, sexism.
    "This impatience with ambiguity can be criticized in the phrase: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." ~ Carl Sagan
    I completely agree with you about it. I think it reflect the lack of inside about how the history of our culture shaped our values at different moments in our lives.

    Gerhard Adam
    Of course.  Ultimately everything is either sexist (if one asks the question) or men's fault (if one doesn't).  It never seems to occur to anyone that the primary influence on girls is their mothers and so perhaps there's just a bit more culpability there if we're talking about the attitudes with which girls are raised.

    Blaming a nebulous "society" in which over half the members are actually female suggests that it's time that women stepped "up to the plate" and changed things for themselves instead of perpetually blaming everyone else for their own choices.
    To quote Gloria Steinem, "I have yet to hear a man ask how to balance family and a career." And saying it's women's fault for doing so that holds them back is in itself, sexism.
    Of course, I don't quite follow why a man's failure to ask a question becomes his problem because a woman asks it.

    Obviously, I must be sexist, since it is the default position that anyone that questions the presumption of female "victimology" must be one.

    Mundus vult decipi
    You consistently state that mothers are the single most important influence on women. Your arguments are always flawed in regards to gender.

    You do not need to respond to any of these articles yet you do out of some perverse pleasure.

    This is a flawed article with flawed logic, but the study is interesting. I will leave it at that. Let social scientists discuss these things because it is apparent you and the author cannot comprehend this topic fully or in a well-educated manner. I am sick of reading this swill and will not be coming back.

    Gerhard Adam
    You do not need to respond to any of these articles yet you do out of some perverse pleasure.
    Of course, your anonymous response is because of heightened scientific interest?
    You consistently state that mothers are the single most important influence on women. Your arguments are always flawed in regards to gender.
    Well out of two genders, why would you think that mothers are not the most influential with respect to daughters?  I'd love to hear the argument.  I expect you would think my arguments are always flawed, but I've never heard a different explanation.  However, if you do, I would like to ensure that the explanation isn't based on the faulty presumption that men get everything their heart's desire, while women perpetually face an uphill battle against the oppressor male.

    After all, I've actually heard justification that because women get pregnant that there's a fundamental flaw in the ability to ever achieve fairness and women shouldn't have to give up having children to have careers.  OK ... fine, but that's certainly not men's nor society's fault.

    Mundus vult decipi
    ArchyFantasies
    "women shouldn't have to give up having children to have careers.  OK ... fine, but that's certainly not men's nor society's fault."

    Really? Even though this is society crafted and maintained by men for men until the recent wave of equal rights movements starting with women having to fight for the right to even vote. I suppose the Ledbetter Law was just a throw back to arcane thinking imposed on women by their mothers too somehow?

    Sure mothers have an impact on their children, so do fathers, unless you are also arguing that fathers be relived of that as well. Still you are arguing to blame the victims by saying it's their mother's fault. If women impose on women somehow that isn't sexist?

    Besides, I'd love to see your data showing mothers are the most influential on daughters, since I have seen studied that state fathers are just as influential, if not more so, especially in ares dealing with self-esteem and mate selection.

    I have to agree that this is a flawed article and I applaud your admittance to being part of the problem.
    "This impatience with ambiguity can be criticized in the phrase: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." ~ Carl Sagan
    Hank
    Is it only flawed because you disagree, though?  Discrimination is a hot-button issue in academia but we have carried articles on dozens of studies.  As far as it can be measured in any real way, gender discrimination no longer exists.  That's not to say anecdotal experience of some idiot being an idiot isn't out there, but discrimination is a defined term.   No women scientists are sitting on the backs of buses, forced to drink out of separate water fountains or strung up on trees so generally people in science should stop using discrimination for emotional impact.

    Yes, a whole lot of men at the higher levels were not beheaded and immediately replaced with women but no recent study looking at PhDs or faculty positions showed any bias toward men - and the most recent showed bias toward women.     It's hard to say whether fathers or mothers are more influential given the subjective nature of both 'influence' and family dynamics, but 70% of teachers are women, so if they are being told they can't do math it is likely women doing it.

    But they aren't being told that; the latest test scores showed no difference in math scores by gender, so even the last bastion of difference has been eliminated.   Sure, some disciplines still have more of one gender than another but imposing a gender quota in psychology classes or mechanical engineering classes doesn't promote equality, it promotes lousy engineers and psychologists.
    Gerhard Adam
    Really? Even though this is society crafted and maintained by men for men until the recent wave of equal rights movements starting with women having to fight for the right to even vote. I suppose the Ledbetter Law was just a throw back to arcane thinking imposed on women by their mothers too somehow?
    What does the Ledbetter Law have to do with anything?  It only extends the statute of limitations with respect to suing under the Civil Rights Act and Equal Pay Act.  The Supreme Court (and the law) made no ruling regarding the merits of the case which were decided in her favor in a lower court.  So what is your point, since these laws have been on the books and available as remedies since 1964?  As I said, this latest law only affects the period during which a suit can be filed.
    Sure mothers have an impact on their children, so do fathers, unless you are also arguing that fathers be relived of that as well. Still you are arguing to blame the victims by saying it's their mother's fault. If women impose on women somehow that isn't sexist?
    No one ever said anything about relieving men of their own responsibilities, but I do suggest that men are not also responsible for women's choices.  Your statement about women imposing something on other women being sexist, is simply gibberish.  In the light of gender politics, it is often easy to overlook the fact that there are social injustices against people and to view everything through the prism of gender privilege is not only misleading but a disservice to actually improving society.

    If you're arguing that men are more influential, then what is the specific point you're trying to make?  That men are sabotaging their wives and daughters in the workplace?  That men are undercutting their wives/daughter's self-esteem?  If that's your point then you better have some data, because I think that's rubbish.  Are you really saying that women having nothing to say or represent to their daughters as role models?  Are you suggesting that they're ineffectual against their father's influences?  What exactly are you accusing men of, because I can assure you that there is no man I know that doesn't want the absolute best for his daughters, and certainly wouldn't work to undercut his wife's employment (so she can work for less).  So... what exactly are you claiming?

    One final point that you might reconsider.  As long as women refer to themselves as "victims", then they will be.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Besides, I'd love to see your data showing mothers are the most influential on daughters, since I have seen studied that state fathers are just as influential, if not more so, especially in ares dealing with self-esteem and mate selection.

    ...
    I'll just mirror your argument and request the studies that state fathers are just, if not more, influential than mothers to their daughters.

    I am 4 months shy of finishing my PhD in organic chemistry. I had my son when I was 19 (he is now 7), and my husband works from home and therefore is his primary caregiver. I have never experienced an inequitable distribution of resources in my entire scientific career, nor have I particularly felt that academic demands conflicted with my family responsibilities--but, then again, I am very good at managing my time, and I have a lot of spousal support for my career choices.

    The only "gender discrimination" I have ever experienced in the physical sciences is related to the fact that most of my peers--male AND female--are still somewhat limited by their traumatic high school experiences involving attractive women. I was awkward in high school, too--I was never one of the "popular" people--but I'm also very much like the ugly duckling, in that I grew into being pretty. I'm not full of myself; I just know how I look, and I know how people see me.

    In the "normal" world, this isn't a problem--I know that men are extra nice to me because of the way I look, and I don't let it go to my head (or take advantage of it, for that matter). I also know that women are sometimes extra mean (or just extra insecure about being my friend) because of it, and, while it isn't pleasant, I've learned to deal with it.

    The problem that I find in the sciences is that most science people were awkward in high school, and many of them harbor resentment towards the "popular" people. Because I'm pretty, they either assume that I was "popular," and therefore a b*tch, or they assume that I won't like them, and am therefore not worth their time or energy. So when I smile and say hello in the hallway, they grunt and look away. Or reply "hello" in a cold voice. Or just ignore me.

    It really hurts my feelings, because I'm actually a very nice and friendly person, but most people are unwilling to even give me a chance to show it. They figure that I'm going to reject them anyway, so they'll just reject me, first. I realize that this probably isn't a conscious response on their part, but it has the effect of making me NOT want to talk to them, because all of the negativity makes me feel lousy, and subsequent interactions become progressively more and more awkward, until I start avoiding them, myself. It's enough to make me want to leave the sciences, because if I'm anything like my mom, I have about twenty more years of this ahead of me (I don't think my mom had a single wrinkle until she was 50), and it sucks.

    Don't get me wrong--I don't feel sorry for myself. I haven't always been pretty, so I fully understand how much easier life is when you're pretty. Actually, the reason I'm writing this is because I hope it will help people understand that the pretty woman in their department is probably, at heart, just as awkward and misunderstood as they are (what smart person ISN'T awkward, at least sometimes?), and that they should try being friendly to her, because (big surprise here) they might just find that she's just as pretty on the inside as she is on the outside.

    Hank
    It's just human nature - very few people who don't get a job want to believe it's because they are not as qualified or fitting as perfectly as someone else so they will say it's because of gender.   Or politics.  Or looks.   Almost anything.   That is the nature of rationalization.   The point the Cornell folks are making is that instead of spending so much money on gender issues (or worse, trying to convince women who want to be doctors they should instead be physicists) and instead make the playing field more agreeable to women who are in family mode, it would be better.

    Academia won't be able to do that - the people with the most vested interest in promoting the idea that discrimination still exists are loud and active - but it's a good idea.      The private sector has no problem at all with women who have children.


    So.. essentially your complaint is that you are attractive?

    I'm no expert but perhaps there are worse things in the world than being pretty.

    As an attractive woman, you have grown accustomed to people(men) bending over to fulfill your every desire. As an average man, I am virtually invisible and people treat me the way you described pretty much every second of every day. Does it bother me? No, because I couldn't care less.

    I don't see how what you've experienced counts as sexism given the fact that your oppressors are probably jealous women 99% of the time.
    Maybe the real problem in science isn't the patriarchy, but unattractive, jealous women?

    Aitch
    The most irritating aspect of so-called 'sexism' studies, is that they are based on job capability and acceptance to the employer, not the employees
    Part and parcel of an employer's need for an employee is something referred to as 'reliability' or 'dependability'
    Then the childbirth point is raised and it's game over
    Isn't it sexism that prevents men from having time off work during that particular time in a family's life?
    To blame women for something most males look forward to, is bizarre
    This isn't peculiar to Science as a career, it is peculiar to the measure of reliability/dependability only from an employer perspective, regardless of career

    No amount of legislation ever got rid of looking at things ignorantly, only time and education achieve that

    Aitch
    >I am 4 months shy of finishing my PhD in organic chemistry. I had my son when I was 19 (he is now 7), and >my husband works from home and therefore is his primary caregiver. I have never experienced an >inequitable distribution of resources in my entire scientific career, nor have I particularly felt that academic >demands conflicted with my family responsibilities--but, then again, I am very good at managing my time, >and I have a lot of spousal support for my career choices.

    Have you considered that perhaps a big reason that you haven't felt that academic demands conflict with your family responsibilities is that you're a woman in the more traditional male role of having a partner who stays home and cares for the child while you're at work? Switching women from one side of unequal roles to another does not solve societal problems of work-life balance.

    And to Hank:
    >The private sector has no problem at all with women who have children.
    ...As long as the women are just as willing to work in conditions that are not family-friendly as men. Women don't fare a lot better in the private sector than in academia. The private sector, much like most of the academic world, is set up so that people have very limited time to spend with their families (due to factors such as extremely limited maternity/paternity leave, limited vacation, etc.), requiring either that families have one partner who is primarily occupied with child care (the traditional model), or that the family employs someone else at high cost for child care. I wouldn't say that suggests that the private sector, or much of the rest of of the country, functions well with families and children.

    Hank
    Given the criteria you seem to be outlining, then no one anywhere in the world has perfect work-life balance.   And I agree.   Want to get laughed at as a man?  Suggest you should take maternity leave after a baby is born.  If an institution is concerned about someone militant filing a lawsuit they just won't come out and say it and will likely even allow it.  But your career is dead.

    Is it reasonable to expect institutions to reshape themselves in order to boost the work-life balance of people?   Not really, institutions do not exist to assist in self-actualization of employees.    The 1950s were a golden age in America economically (yet culturally 1950s parenting is ridiculed by the same people complaining about having both parents work on a level playing field) because taxes were low enough people could afford a car and a house on one income.     So institutions can rightly argue that it is the government that is hurting families.

    Demanding some zero-defects ideal lifestyle for workers that has never existed and never will exist is unreasonable.   It is like saying nothing in science should be done unless we can cure cancer.

    Christina Hoff Sommers discusses this same study as well as the effects of the perceived discrimination in science:
    http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/259744/science-saturated-sexism-c...