After the discussion here and elsewhere in yonder blogosphere about women and stereotyping, Cornelia Dean in the New York Times writes about recent meeting aimed at helping women advance in science, where bias still rages.
This fall, female scientists at Rice University here gathered promising women who are graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to help them learn skills that they will need to deal with the perils of job hunting, promotion and tenure in high-stakes academic science.
“The reality is there are barriers that women face,” said Kathleen S. Matthews, the dean of natural sciences at Rice, who spoke at the meeting’s opening dinner. “There are circles and communities of engagement where women are by and large not included.”
Instead, they talk about what they have to know and do to get ahead. They talk about unspoken, even unconscious sexism that means they must be better than men to be thought as good — that they must, as one Rice participant put it, literally and figuratively wear a suit and heels, while men can relax in jeans.
They muse on the importance of mentoring and other professional support and talk about ways women can provide it for each other if they do not receive it from their professors or advisers.
And they obsess about what they call “the two body problem,” the extreme difficulty of reconciling a demanding career in science with marriage and a family — especially, as is more often the case for women than men in science, when the spouse also has scientific ambitions.
I discussed some of these statistics previously here, and the latter stat is one that really stood out for me: just how many women versus men who have to deal with having a spouse in an academic or other demanding careers (or who are employed full-time, period).
Even today, Dr. Heilman said, the idea that women are somehow unsuited to science is widespread and tenacious. Because people judge others in terms of these unconscious prejudices, she said, the same behavior that would suggest a man is collaborative, judicious or flexible would mark a woman as needy, timid or flighty.
And because science is still widely viewed as “a male arena,” she said, a woman who succeeds may be viewed as “selfish, manipulative, bitter, untrustworthy, conniving and cold.”
“Women in science are in a double bind,” Dr. Heilman said. “When not clearly successful, they are presumed to be incompetent. When they are successful, they are not liked.”
As Janet mentioned (not talking about this issue specifically, but it still fits): this crap gets tiresome. It’s difficult to always be up against this unconscious bias, and that’s why it ticks us off when we see it in other areas as well. It’s prevalent, and it’s not easy to overcome:
Dr. Steitz cited a study of letters of recommendation written for men and women seeking academic appointments. Though all the applicants were successful, she said, and though the letters were written by men and women, the study found that the applicant’s personal life was mentioned six times more often if the letter was about a woman.
Also, Dr. Steitz said, “For women, the things that were talked about more frequently were how well they were trained, what good teachers they were and how well their applications were put together.” When the subject of the letter was male, she said, the big topics were research skills and success in the lab.
Dr. Woods, an administrator in the College of Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, reminded the young women of research in which academics were asked to judge the otherwise identical rÃ©sumÃ©s of people who were identified as Ken, Karen or K.
In these studies, she said, Ken consistently comes out on top.
And unfortunately, even the advice given to women isn’t proven or consistent–when is the best time to start a family? to tell a search committee about a spouse who also needs a job? There’s still a lot of flying blind here, and though they do note in the article that things *have* improved, we’ve still got a long way to go.