Women in Science, the National Academies Weighs In

In ScienceNOW:

U.S. universities foster “a culture that fundamentally discriminates against women,” says a report on the status of women in academic science and engineering issued today by the National Academies. Their underrepresentation is “deeply troubling and embarrassing,” according to the report, which suggests that institutions should create a body to collect data, set standards, and ultimately monitor compliance to increase the number of women in technical fields.

“Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering,” cites research demonstrating that women are paid less, promoted more slowly, bypassed for honors, and subjected to implicit gender bias from both their male and female colleagues. The 18-member panel–chaired by University of Miami president Donna Shalala and made up primarily of female university presidents, provosts, and senior professors–also finds no scientific basis to the argument that inherent differences between the genders are at the root of the problem.

The fundamental issue, the panel notes, is not attracting women into science but retaining them once they are trained. For example, the report says the culture still favors academics with a stay-at-home spouse–typically a wife. Fewer than half the spouses of male faculty members in the sciences are employed fulltime, whereas 90% of the husbands of women faculty work outside the home.