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January 12, 2004

Women Don't "Choose" To Avoid Science and Tech Fields

A new report showing how women are vastly underrepresented in academia disproves a persistent claim that women choose to not work or study in technically complicated fields. The report found that "only between 3 percent and 15 percent of full professors at top engineering and science departments are women, although the percentage of women attaining doctorates during the last 20 years is substantially higher."

This is not because women have chosen to avoid these fields, therefore leaving a dearth of qualified female applicants for top positions.

At the top 50 universities for electrical engineering, [Dr. Donna Nelson, the author of the study and a chemistry professor at the Norman campus of the University of Oklahoma] counted the number of women and minority members among the roster of professors, associate professors and assistant professors from the year 2002. She found only 6.5 percent of electrical-engineering faculties was female. During the same time period, she found only 6.6 percent of faculty at the top 50 physics departments was female. Women's representation in mechanical-engineering departments during the same time period was barely better at 6.7 percent.

Top-ranked departments in disciplines such as political science, biology and psychology scored much higher in 2002. But even in sociology--the best-of-the-best in terms of female representation--on average, only 35.8 percent of the faculty was female.

Nelson and her co-author, Diana C. Rogers, also from the University of Oklahoma, say their results debunk a persistent theory about women's absence from top scientific research posts. The lack of female faculty members at top universities is often chalked up to too few women having doctorates to allow the university faculty to become between 15 percent to 30 percent female. (Similar arguments are made about the lack of minority men.) After surveying the top 50 universities for each of 13 specific disciplines, however, Nelson found an adequate supply of women with doctorates for most disciplines in the past 20 years.

Women have also complained of "lower pay then men and a lack of promotion and recognition. In addition to the inadequate doctorate pipeline, arguments justifying the lack of diversity in science faculty have also included high attrition rates among women, poor work atmosphere for women and women's personal lifestyle choices."

It isn't true that few women study science and technology. The women are there. They are more than adequate. They are not being hired and promoted. They are being passed over in favor of men.

Posted on January 12, 2004 at 06:50 AM | Permalink


your post hits it on the head..
my sister is in the science field and she gets passed
over by men all the time..
it's pretty sad because the guys they are promoting are
tools who suck a lot of ass.

Posted by: Jesse at Jan 12, 2004 4:08:56 PM

Thanks, Jesse. That article about the study came into my mail box this morning. It was a perfect fit for the comments section at Echidne's for her "wage gap" post. Somebody in there was promoting the same "women 'choose'to avoid science and tech" nonsense. I posted the link there, too.

Posted by: Trish Wilson at Jan 12, 2004 4:36:06 PM

I know how she feels. I got my degree in Biology/Marine Biology. It's still by far a man's field. There are very few women who break into their club.

When I first met the man who was supposed to be my academic advisor, as well as one of my marine bio teachers, he asked me why I thought I really wanted to go into marine biology...and added, "you never know, in a few more years you'll probably be thinking about marriage and maybe wanting to have kids..."

Uh huh. asshole.

Posted by: Amy at Jan 14, 2004 2:42:44 PM