The Sciences

Changes and New Challenges for Women in Academia

The IntersectionBy Sheril KirshenbaumMar 21, 2011 3:18 PM

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Kate Zernike has an important piece in today's New York Times entitled, Gains, and Drawbacks, for Female Professors. The article resonates for me and touches on many of the same issues we discussed last Fall at L'Oreal/Discover's "Women in Science" Capitol Hill Briefing. While the tremendous accomplishments of women in science speak for themselves, ridiculous statements by those who should know better--

like former Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers

--continue to echo in the public discourse. For example, Zernike points out that male undergraduates at M.I.T. tell female classmates they were only accepted because of affirmative action. Faculty members face new struggles as well. While universities are working to increase diversity, some criticize these efforts because they believe women gain an unfair advantage. Compounding matters, women are frequently sought for committees and panels to satisfy gender requirements. Since there are still not many female faculty members, individuals are overburdened, leaving less time for research, consulting, and other opportunities. But perhaps, most frustrating:

stereotypes remain: women must navigate a narrow “acceptable personality range,” as one female professor said, that is “neither too aggressive nor too soft.” Said another woman: “I am not patient and understanding. I’m busy and ambitious.” Despite an effort to educate colleagues about bias in letters of recommendation for tenure, those for men tend to focus on intellect while those for women dwell on temperament.

You can read the full piece here. I discuss women in science often, and continue to believe that the system will need to undergo fundamental changes to accommodate more of us. Further, if we are to achieve equal status in the ivory towers, it will takeboth women and men to get there. So no matter how far we've come, we still have a long way to go.

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