Women in science and engineering are hindered not by lack of ability but by bias and “outmoded institutional structures” in academia, an expert panel reported today. The panel, convened by the National Academy of Sciences, said that in an era of global competition the nation could not afford “such underuse of precious human capital.”
Among other steps, the report recommends that universities alter procedures for hiring and evaluation, change typical timetables for tenure and promotion, and provide more support for working parents. “Unless a deeper talent pool is tapped, it will be difficult for our country to maintain our competitiveness in science and engineering,” the panel’s chairwoman, Donna E. Shalala, said at a news conference at which the report, “Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering,” was made public.
The report also dismissed other commonly held beliefs — that women are uncompetitive or less productive, that they take too much time off for their families, and so on. Their real problems, it says, are unconscious but pervasive bias, “arbitrary and subjective” evaluation processes, and a work environment in which “anyone lacking the work and family support traditionally provided by a ‘wife’ is at a serious disadvantage.”