Academia Warming Up to Women Scientists, Says Report

Jeff tries to explain how government works to readers of Science.

A report out today by the U.S. National Academies contradicts the conventional wisdom that women face discrimination when it comes to being hired, promoted, and given equal access to resources in academic science and engineering. "Gender does not appear to have been a factor in number of important career transitions and outcomes" at major research universities, according to the report, which Congress requested in the wake of previous studies that had found a "chilly climate" for women in academia.

The new report, Gender Differences at Critical Transitions in the Careers of Science, Engineering and Mathematics Faculty, looks at policies and practices within six disciplines at the nation's top research universities: biology, chemistry, civil and electrical engineering, mathematics, and physics. It draws upon a survey of 500 departments and 1800 faculty members from those departments. Although the survey found that women do disproportionately well in getting interviews and job offers for tenure-track jobs and tenured positions, their share of the overall applicant pool is much lower than the percentage of women qualified for the positions—that is, those receiving Ph.D.s in those disciplines.

"Underrepresentation remains a serious problem that needs to be addressed," says the panel's chair, physicist Claude Canizares of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. "We need to be concerned that an academic career is not viewed as very attractive to many women."

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