Drip, Drip, Drip

Female scientistThe "leaky pipeline" describes the declining proportion of women in science as they progress up through the career ranks. The latest results from ACS's Committee on Professional Training show that in 2006, women received 51.9% of bachelor degrees in chemistry, 48.6% of masters degrees, and 35.8% of Ph.D.s (C&EN, Sept. 17, 2007, p. 43). Meanwhile, women made up just 14% of the tenured or tenure-track chemistry faculty at the top 50 schools in 2006–07 (C&EN, Dec. 18, 2006, p. 58). In industry, 12.0% of people serving on boards of directors in 2007 were women, as were 9.2% of executive officers (C&EN, July 30, 2007, p. 38). Reasons given for the drop-off are varied. A trio of blog posts from the past week highlight some of the issues that women in the physical sciences face when trying to advance their careers: The More Things Change
[My colleague] sits in hiring committees and hears young male faculty question whether female applicants are capable of having their own ideas and working independently, but these issues are not raised for male applicants. He has been fighting this attitude for so long, he was discouraged that it wasn't something that went away as younger faculty were hired.
Letter from Europe: Here's Looking at You
[After returning from giving a preinterview seminar, Female Science Professor 1] said to me that she felt very good about her visit because there is an excellent academic fit between her field of expertise and where the institution wants to go. Something worried her though. She was told that [Female Science Professor 2], who is also an excellent young scientist, had the preference of a fraction of the (male) faculty because of her looks.
Gender Bias at FermiLab
# The [female post docs] in the study were more productive (as measured by internal publications), on average, than the males. Half of the males produced fewer internal papers per year than the least productive female in the sample. There was a much broader distribution for the male post docs: "nearly all the females are highly productive, whereas 1/2 the males produce almost nothing, somewhat half are moderately productive, and a select few are extremely productive." Note that internal publications were used to measure productivity because peer-reviewed journal publications always list all of the project's participants in alphabetical order as authors. # Males were much more likely to be alloted conference presentations. The ratio of physics conference presentations to internal physics papers produced for males was double that of females (triple if all presentations and papers were considered).
Edited on May 14, 2008, to add another one: Perspective Changes
"Oh Invited Speaker was a little... umm... handsy, I suppose," I told him while Roommate and I sort of laughed. "He just didn't seem to have any boundaries. You should have seen [Female Grad Student] when we dropped him off. He did the reel-'em-in-and-kiss-'em-- on the cheek." Labmate, Roommate, and I laughed. Advisor didn't.
It would appear that gender discrimination still abounds, despite the best efforts of some. C&ENtral Science readers: What have you experienced or observed?

Author: Jyllian Kemsley

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  1. Just because they make up 35.8% of PhDs doesn’t mean they want professorships equally as much as males. A statistic would be needed indicating career goal, to place the above statistics in proper perspective.

  2. Mitch, the Survey of Earned Doctorates does ask new PhD recipients about their postgraduation career goals, planned and definite but the better perspective is comparing the trajectory of PhDs earned by women with their trajectory through the academic ranks.

    Having written the Academic Scorecard stories for the past few years, I’ve concluded that it’s largely gender-related factors that impede women’s progress, compared with that of their male counterparts. Despite all the public acknowledgment that the gender gap exists and that something needs to be done to attract and retain women in academia, the pipeline still leaks and it all comes down to gender.

    One NSF report I found looked at gender differences in the careers of academic scientists and engineers and concluded, “We find evidence that female scientists and engineers are less successful than their male counterparts in traveling along the academic career path. Some of this disparity appears to be related to differences between the sexes in the influence of family characteristics. Typically, married women and women with children are less successful than men who are married and have children. Our estimates of gender differences in success rates are relatively insensitive to characteristics of academic employers and to primary work activity.” (http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/nsf04323/sect1.htm#fn7)

    In the last Academic Scorecard story I wrote (C&EN, Dec. 18, 2006, page 58), I cited a report that analyzed data from NSF’s 1973-2001 Survey of Doctorate Recipients in an effort to explain how gender differences affect the likelihood of obtaining a tenure-track job, promotion to tenure, and promotion to full professor in the life sciences, physical sciences, and engineering. The authors concluded that the gap between women and men in tenure-track positions is explained entirely by the decision to have children, while marriage and children positively correlate to men’s advancement. Furthermore, the authors found no gender difference in promotion to tenure or full professor after controlling for factors such as demographics and employer characteristics.

    The paper was published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, titled “Does Science Promote Women? Evidence from Academia 1973-2001” (http://www.nber.org/~sewp/Ginther_Kahn_revised8-06.pdf).

  3. I would assume that, all else being equal, women on average have the same career goals as men. Why would you assume otherwise?

  4. I’ve never met a female PhD student who wanted to be a professor. They usually say they don’t want to put family on the back-burner. But this is only anecdotal data from my experience, a statistic would be very useful.

  5. I think it’s really hard to get accurate statistics on that sort of thing, Mitch. For starters, this is a census only of ACS-approved programs (at least, those were the only programs obligated to report data). Also, how would the survey designers have to phrase the question? Just ask what someone’s goals are, give options, or something else? I’d bet the results would be different each time.

  6. Yeah, it may be to complicated to thoroughly sort out easily.

  7. how about a survey of educated women in Asian countries ? it seems that in asia women have more responsibility of their family, due to that after higher qualifiacation also they are not pursuing their academic career only few continue…..

  8. Academia aside, I’d be interested to hear some views as to why the proportion of female scientists at high levels in industry is so minuscule. The Wall Street Journal does a “Top 50 Women to Watch” every year, and every year that I peruse and notice the majority of those highlighted are outside of research-oriented industries. My focus is usually on the pharma industry, and there appear to be few women in the executive suites there, aside from legal and HR positions. Biotech is a little better, but it still surprises me how rare it is that I am offered an interview with a female scientist. Why is this? Anyone within industry have any thoughts?


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