Study finds bias against women in science
1.00pm Tuesday September 19, 2006
By Maggie Fox
A committee of experts looked at all the possible excuses — biological differences in ability, hormonal influences, childrearing demands, and even differences in ambition — and found no good explanation for why women are being locked out.
“Compared with men, women faculty members are generally paid less and promoted more slowly, receive fewer honours, and hold fewer leadership positions,” the Academies said in a statement.
“These discrepancies do not appear to be based on productivity, the significance of their work, or any other performance measures.”
“We found no significant biological differences between men and women in science, engineering and mathematics that could account for the lower representation of women in academic faculty and scientific leadership positions,” said Donna Shalala, president of the University of Miami and head of the committee that wrote the report.
The study was compiled by all the National Academies — the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine — which advise Congress, the federal government, and various institutions.
Many arguments have been made to explain why women do not excel in maths and science — that they are not as good as men in mathematical ability, that female brain structures are different or that hormones affect performance.
Lawrence Summers resigned as Harvard University president after he made widely disparaged remarks in 2005 suggesting that women were biologically less able in maths and science, and that women chose to pay more attention to their families and thus failed to put in enough effort to succeed at work.
The experts looked at many different studies on the issue.
“The committee found no sound evidence to support these myths and often good evidence to the contrary,” said Ana Mari Cauce, Executive Vice Provost at the University of Washington in Seattle.
“In fact, female performance in high school mathematics now matches that of males. If biology were the basis of that, we’ve seen some major evolution in the past decades.”
Urgent change is needed, said Cauce, if the United States wants to compete internationally in science.
“This is about more excellence. This is not about changing the bar or lowering the bar,” Cauce said.
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