Women in science and technology: Recruiting and Retaining

We’ve been discussing getting something like “fact sheets” going, and serendipitously I got the following request through my university:

I’m seeking experts who can discuss steps employers should consider to get and keep more women in the pipeline for science- and technology-related jobs. Are there cultural, institutional or other barriers that keep women from pursuing or maintaining science and technology careers? Are there steps colleges and/or employers can take to attract more women into science and technology degree programs? Is there any data available that shows whether men and women in science and technology fields value different things in an employment relationship, such as rewards, advancement opportunities, flexibility, etc.

I asked the writer for permission to post her request here.  I hope people will jump in with their own ideas or ideas from discussions we’ve had here.

Considerations we can bring up may well end up in a publication by a standard news service (if I understand the situation),  so it’s a good time for the discussions here to reach a perhaps different audience.

I’m going to start this off with a few observations.  Please, do join in!

1.  There’s a traditional story that women either aren’t interested in this stuff or they don’t have the aptitude for it.  We have argued against this view quite a bit, including here and here.  There’s good evidence that women also encounter unconscious biases in science and technology; see here, for example.  We’ve looked some at countering such biases, and perhaps someone can find those posts??

2.  One kind of severe problem for women is the sexism in such field.  We looked at one example recently here.  If you follow the links in that post, you might encounter a link to this short article.  It describes some of the culture of techies that makes it less than friendly to women.  The article also draws on the study described in Unlocking the Clubhouse, about the successful attempt to make Carnegie Mellon’s computer science department more women-friendly.

One of the factors we’ve described is the way in which women on research teams can get put into the lower , almost  secretarial positions.  It’s also the case that there’s some evidence that women enjoy less than men do the purely formal work – e.g., undertaking a task that has little meaning outside of itself.

When jj-partner was at a big corporate research lab, scientists were frequently required to undergo sensitivity training, and that made a huge difference, as far as I could tell.

There’s lots  more.   We looked at the childcare issue several times and perhaps someone can suggest our best on that.  There’s more about salaries, motivation, etc.  And there’s lots of room for new suggestions!  Now I have to run to see a dean about a job!


10 thoughts on “Women in science and technology: Recruiting and Retaining

  1. Some people who comment here can also edit my post. If you can and would like to add to the post rather than comment, please do so. It might make a better reference.

    If we do that, let’s keep count of the additions at the top of the argument and mark them in the text, so people will know where new stuff is.

  2. Richard, thanks so much. That’s such an important resource! I’m proud to say that one of the bloggers on this site has a close relationship to the advance program.

  3. JJ – womenintechnology.co.uk is a UK-based organisation that works with employers to help them recruit more female talent into their IT divisions – we also have an active network of about 5,000 and run regular networking event. There’s loads of info online including a report written in 2007 called “Effective Recruitment Strategies and Practices – Addressing Skills Needs and Gender Diversity Challenges in ITEC” – you can find it on this page: http://www.womenintechnology.co.uk/women-in-it-research-from-2007
    Hope that helps! Thanks, Maggie

  4. One of these years I’m going to put all my various resources on this into a single big paper. But here are some key points:

    First, underrepresentation of women is not a problem in some STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields, and an egregious problem in others (including philosophy). Most of the social sciences, biology, and I think chemistry, are all either reasonably close to 50-50 or somewhat female-dominated. On the other hand, women have made relatively little progress in economics, physics, mathematics, and philosophy. I think this means it’s a mistake to talk about `the’ problem of women in STEM; different fields have different problems.

    Second, the work I’ve done on underrepresentation focuses primarily on education. So the NCES is a fantastic source of data for me. (That links goes to one table for one year. These results are regularly updated, and I recommend clicking around to get a sense of what kinds of data they have to offer.) For example: In physics in AY 2004-2005, 42% of Bachelor’s degrees went to women, but only 28% of Ph.D.s. On the other hand, in economics that same year, 32% of Bachelor’s degrees went to women, and 30% of Ph.D.s. Hence, in physics, one problem is that women’s attrition rate is much higher than men — the `physics pipeline’ is `leaky’. But in economics this isn’t such a big deal; the problem is getting women to major in econ in the first place, not stick with it after college. (I’ve argued that philosophy is in the same situation as econ, actually; our numbers were 30% and 24% that year.)

    Third, I also highly recommend Margolis and Fisher’s Unlocking the clubhouse: Women in computing. The authors are professors in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie-Mellon, and the book describes their successful efforts to increase the percentage of women undergraduates in the school in the late ’90s.

    Fourth, some general resources. Academe had a special issue on women in academia a few years ago. The journal Sex roles regularly publishes empirical, social psych work on women in academia. And Virginia Valian’s Gender Equity Project has a fantastic annotated bibiliography at the bottom of their Equity Materials page.

  5. This has been a research focus of mine for several years now.

    The single best resource out there is a report by Alison Wylie Janet R. Jakobsen and Gisela Fosado, ‘Women, Work and the Academy: Strategies for Responding to ‘Post-Civil Rights Era’ Gender Discrimination,” Barnard Center for Research on Women in the BCRW series, New Feminist Solutions, 2007.

    Here is a link to a PDF http://faculty.washington.edu/aw26/WorkplaceEquity/BCRW-WomenWorkAcademy_08.pdf.

    Of course, there is also “Beyond Bias and Barriers.”Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering” put out by the Committee on Maximizing the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering, National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. Here is a link where you can download a free summary: http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11741

    The AAUP has some good work here also, see West, Martha S., and John W. Curtis. 2006. AAUP Faculty Gender Equity Indicators.

    Here is a well organized list of resources from the Arizona State ADVANCE Program http://www.advance.arizona.edu/resources.cfm

    Cathy Trower’s work is very useful. Here is a taste http://www.med.unc.edu/wrkunits/orgs/apwims/trower_xx_tenure_sci.pdf.

    Mary Frank Fox, and Sonnert and Holten also have some very useful empirical work.

  6. Recruiting the right person for science- and technology-related jobs can be a challenging task. Biases that may be faced in the workplace can keep the right candidate from taking the steps into the field where their skills could be most applied.
    What can be done to recruit everyone for positions within science- and technology-related industries?

  7. Thank you all for these useful comments! I’m sure they’ll make a difference to the report.

    Noumena, I’m afraid chemistry is not particularly female friendly. The life sciences have a pretty decent proportion of women and some of the social sciences, such as psychology, are female majority or close to it. However, one needs to look at how these large fields break down. For example, cognitive psychology at about 36% women is better than philosophy, but below what it could be.

    Cade: I hope you find some answers in the resources mentioned here.

    Here’s one idea we haven’t discussed; I’m sure it is also addressed in the literature mentioned above: One tactic that might be more easily available outside academia is offering both members of a couple jobs. In a (m/f) couple, if there’s a compromise about employment needed , the woman is more likely to make it. Keeping her in a good job is easier if he gets a one with her.

  8. I do research in the field of women in science, particularly in the context of UK higher education, and would be happy to participate in this exercise. I worked for some time as a scientist in various UK universities; here are some very brief observations (I’ll do more posts later if I have time).

    The biggest impact on women’s careers is having children; almost all the women scientists I’ve worked with who became mothers were eventually forced to abandon their careers due to lack of flexibility and an inability of the HE, RAE, grant-applicarion etc structure to accommodate researchers who were unable to work very long hours.

    There is widespread ignorance among women scientists about feminism, gender issues and gender politics. There is an assumption among almost all my female students and colleagues (and female deans and heads of departments) that “a women can do anthing a man can do”, and that if women end up leaving science in much greater numbers than men, this is because they chose to do so. There is no reason why women who specialise in some field of science should be expected to be knowledgeable about gender politics or feminism, but the personal impact on women because of this ignorance is that they are completely unprepared for what happens to their careers when they have their first child. Because they have no appreciation of the wider context, they experience their difficulties in getting flexible working or reasonable teaching/research loads as something specific to their own personal circumstances, and ultimately see the crash and burn of their careers as their own personal failure.

    As well as looking at strategies that work, some consideration also needs to be given to strategies that don’t work. For example, mentoring schemes have been shown to be much less effective than instituting (and enforcing) childcare provision and sensible work-life balance policies.

    There has also been a growth in unhelpful stereotypes (promoted by many who work in the field of gender in science), e.g. that women prefer networking/teamwork, are better communicators, are more interested in social or “real-world” applications of their field than in the purely theoretical/academic approach, etc. These stereotypes are incredibly damaging and perpetuate the myths that have traditionally been used to exclude us (or justify our exclusion) from science. These stereotypes mean that women scientists end up being doubly discriminated against; firstly by being female and secondly by being expected to bring “special qualities” of happiness, harmony and teamwork into the lab by virtue of our supposedly superior people skills.

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