Academic Science Isn’t Sexist

Academic Science Isn’t Sexist


ACADEMIC science has a gender problem: specifically, the almost daily reports about hostile workplaces, low pay, delayed promotion and even physical aggression against women. Particularly in math-intensive fields like the physical sciences, computer science and engineering, women make up only 25 to 30 percent of junior faculty, and 7 to 15 percent of senior faculty, leading many to claim that the inhospitable work environment is to blame.

Our country desperately needs more talented people in these fields; recruiting more women could address this issue. But the unwelcoming image of the sexist academy isn’t helping. Fortunately, as we have found in a thorough analysis of recent data on women in the academic workplace, it isn’t accurate, either.

There’s no argument that, until recently, universities deserved their reputations as bastions of male privilege and outright sexism. But times have changed. Many of the common, negative depictions of the plight of academic women are based on experiences of older women and data from before the 2000s, and often before the 1990s. That’s not to say that mistreatment doesn’t still occur — but when it does, it is largely anecdotal, or else overgeneralized from small studies. As we found, when the evidence of mistreatment goes beyond the anecdotal, it is limited to a small number of comparisons of men and women involving a single academic rank in a given field on a specific outcome.

In contrast, our work, which is forthcoming in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest and was written with the economists Donna K. Ginther, of the University of Kansas, and Shulamit Kahn, of Boston University, reports the results of several hundred analyses of data on hiring, salary, promotion, productivity and job satisfaction for eight broad fields of science at American universities and colleges.

Our analysis reveals that the experiences of young and midcareer women in math-intensive fields are, for the most part, similar to those of their male counterparts: They are more likely to receive hiring offers, are paid roughly the same (in 14 of 16 comparisons across the eight fields), are generally tenured and promoted at the same rate (except in economics), remain in their fields at roughly the same rate, have their grants funded and articles accepted as often and are about as satisfied with their jobs. Articles published by women are cited as often as those by men. In sum, with a few exceptions, the world of academic science in math-based fields today reflects gender fairness, rather than gender bias.

Moreover, in contrast to frequent claims that outright bias pushes more women out of math-intensive fields, we actually found a greater exodus of women from non-math-intensive fields in which they are already well represented as professors (like psychology and biology, where 45 to 65 percent of new professors are women) than from fields in which they are underrepresented (like engineering, computer science and physics, where only 25 to 30 percent of new professors are women). Our analyses show that women can and do prosper in math-based fields of science, if they choose to enter these fields in the first place.

So if alleged hiring and promotion biases don’t explain the underrepresentation of women in math-intensive fields, what does? According to our research, the biggest culprits are rooted in women’s earlier educational choices, and in women’s occupational and lifestyle preferences.

As children, girls tend to show more interest in living things (such as people and animals), while boys tend to prefer playing with machines and building things. As adolescents, girls express less interest in careers like engineering and computer science. Despite earning higher grades throughout schooling in all subjects — including math and science — girls are less likely to take math-intensive advanced-placement courses like calculus and physics.

Women are also less likely to declare college majors in math-intensive science fields. However, if they do take introductory science courses early in their college education, they are actually more likely than men to switch into majors in math-intensive fields of science — especially if their instructors are women. This shows that women’s interest in math-based fields can be cultivated, but that majoring in these fields requires exposure to enough math and science early on.

In contrast to math-based fields, women prefer veterinary medicine, where they now constitute 80 percent of graduates, and life sciences, in which they earn over half of all doctoral degrees; women are also half of all newly minted M.D.s and 70 percent of psychology Ph.D.s. However, those college women who do choose math-intensive majors like engineering persist in them through graduate school and into the academy at the same rate as their male counterparts — again showing that women can and do succeed in math-based fields if they develop interest in them and commit to them.

Today’s story about women in math-based academic fields is clear. While no career is without setbacks and challenges, life in fields like engineering, physics, mathematics and computer science — when viewed by the numbers across the population of academics today rather than through the lens of testimonials and overgeneralized findings — is life with reasonable pay, flexibility to meet family demands, and the chance to make meaningful impacts on the state of knowledge and the next generation of talented young people. Academic science is a rewarding career for many, men and women alike. We are not your father’s academy anymore.


The flawed and offensive logic of "Academic Science Isn’t Sexist" in the @nytimes

The flawed and offensive logic of "Academic Science Isn’t Sexist" in the @nytimes


OK.  It is Halloween night and I am tired and need to get my kids to sleep.  But someone on Twitter just pointed me to an opinion piece just out in the New York Times: Academic Science Isn’t Sexist - and after reading it I felt I had to write a quick post.

The opinion piece is by Wendy M. Williams and Stephen J. Ceci and discusses work by them (and coauthors).  In particular they discuss findings in a massive report "Women in Academic Science: A Changing Landscape" by Stephen J. Ceci, Donna K. Ginther, Shulamit Kahn, and Wendy M. Williams in Psychological Science in the Public Interest.  I note - kudos to the authors for making this available freely and under what may be an open license and also apparently for making much of their data available behind their analyses.

The opinion piece and the associated article have a ton of things to discuss and ponder and analyze for anyone interested in the general issue of women in academic science.  I am not in any position at this time to comment on any of the specific claims made by the authors on this topic.  But certainly I have a ton of reading to do and am looking forward to it.

However, I do want to write about one thing - really just one single thing -  that really bothers me about their New York Times article.  I do not know if this was intentional on their part, but regardless I think there is a major flaw in their piece.

First, to set the stage -- their article starts off with the following sentences:

Academic science has a gender problem: specifically, the almost daily reports about hostile workplaces, low pay, delayed promotion and even physical aggression against women.  Particularly in math-intensive fields like the physical sciences, computer science and engineering, women make up only 25 to 30 percent of junior faculty, and 7 to 15 percent of senior faculty, leading many to claim that the inhospitable work environment is to blame.
This then sets the stage for the authors to discuss their analyses which leads them to conclude that in recent times, there are not biases against women in hiring, publishing, tenure, and other areas.  Again, I am not in any position to examine or dispute their claims about these analyses - to either support them or refute them.

But the piece makes what to me appears to be a dangerous and unsupported connection.  They lump together what one could call "career progression" topics (such as pay, promotion, publishing, citation, etc) with workplace topics (hostility and physical aggression against women).  And yet, they only present or discuss data on the career progression issues.  Yet once they claim to find that career progression for women in math heavy fields seems to be going well recently, they imply that the other workplace issues must not be a problem.  This is seen in statements like "While no career is without setbacks and challenges" and "As we found, when the evidence of mistreatment goes beyond the anecdotal" and "leading many to claim that the inhospitable work environment is to blame."

Whether one agrees with any or all of their analyses (which again, I am not addressing here) I see no justification for their inclusion of any mention of hostile workplaces and physical agression against women.  So - does this mean that a woman who does well in her career cannot experience physical aggression of any kind?  Also - I note - I am unclear I guess in some of their terminology usage - is their use of the term "physical aggression" here meant to discount reports of sexual violence?   This reminds me of the "Why I stayed" stories of domestic violence.  Just because a women's career is doing OK does not mean that she did not experience workplace hostility or physical or sexual violence.  I hope - I truly hope - that the authors did not intend to imply this.  But whether they did or not, their logic appears to be both flawed and offensive.

A New Frame of Mind

This documentary, produced during the 2014 Summer Media Institute, explores women pursuing careers in science. Produced by Melat Kassa, Priya Joyce and Samantha Liu.

View the video Here -  A New Frame of Mind

RFS - A new frame of mind

Rosalind Franklin Society Applauds General Electric Ad Campaign

For Release September 18, 2014                                  Contact: Karla Shepard Rubinger  

                                                                                                                          (914) 740-2219

                                                                                This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.






Rosalind Franklin Society Applauds General Electric Ad Campaign Recognizing the Contributions of Women Innovators and

Inspiring Future Generations of Female Scientists



New Rochelle, NY—Though the main objective of General Electric’s (GE) current television ad campaign, “Childlike Imagination” is to illustrate that : imagination = innovation; a fortuitous byproduct is the spotlight shed on women in science: the life-changing inventions they create, and the call-to-action they provide to their daughters and other young women to “dream big!” "We think it's important to convey the message that science and technology isn't only a guy thing", added Danielle Merfeld, Technology Director for Electrical Technologies and Systems at GE Global Research. "We want girls - and boys - to dream big, to be inquisitive and innovative from an early age. In today's world, the value of a STEM education is so important, and GE is proud to do its part to inspire the scientists and engineers of tomorrow."

The Rosalind Franklin Society (RFS) is thrilled to share the compelling ad with our community. RFS’s mission is to recognize the work of outstanding women scientists as well as to foster greater opportunities for women scientists, and to motivate and educate by example, young generations of women who have this calling. According to RFS President, Professor Rita Colwell, PhD., “Great storytelling, even if it’s in the form of an ad, like GE’s, can have the power to breakdown longstanding and pervasive barriers that hold women back from believing and achieving their dreams of being successful in science.”

The new spot focuses on what GE looks like through the eyes of a young girl whose mom works at the company. Children have wild imaginations and GE makes inventive and innovative products that can seem almost unbelievable. The add brings viewers on a journey into a child’s imagination as she envisions all the amazing things her mom makes -- underwater fans that are powered by the moon, airplane engines that can talk, hospitals you can hold in your hand, and more.

“It’s amazing that a few powerful images combined with one simple phrase -- my mom works at GE – can educate the public and change lives,” asserts RFS Co-Founder, Mary Ann Liebert. The Society educates the public, policy makers, and the press community about the significant contributions of women to scientific research and their impact, and shares stories, about The Rosalind Franklin Society.

RFS’s esteemed Board is comprised of many true pioneers in their scientific fields – with 5 Nobel Laureates, eminent researchers, educators, administrators, and applied scientists. RFS is initiating a new Council of Corporate Leadership, representing business leaders who understand the need to address the barriers faced by women in typically male-dominated professions. For more information contact the Rosalind Franklin Society: (914) 740-2219 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


About the Rosalind Franklin Society  

The Rosalind Franklin Society recognizes, fosters, and makes known the important contributions of women in science. In so doing, the Society honors the achievements of the late Rosalind Franklin, who helped solve the structure of DNA.The Founding Board of the Rosalind Franklin Society is comprised of women and men who understand the importance of recognizing the work of prominent women scientists, foster greater opportunities for women in the life sciences and related disciplines and educate, by example, and encourage young generations of women who have this calling.

Rosalind Franklin Society

140 Huguenot Street, 3rd Floor

New Rochelle, NY 10801

Phone: (914) 740-2219

Fax: (914) 740-2101