KIRSHENBAUM More than half of women surveyed by L’Oréal and AAAS say they have experienced gender bias, and 77 percent encounter barriers to balancing life and career. How can we overcome these challenges?
MALCOM These aren’t just issues for women. They are issues for families and institutions. When Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider were being interviewed after winning the Nobel Prize, they talked about institutional arrangements that provided options for how the science could get done. NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco has talked about how she and her husband both worked less than full-time at some points during their careers. It is important to have those kinds of options and to share strategies about how those arrangements have been carried out by others.
SEAGER At MIT we have an annual women in engineering symposium. The first question from the audience is always, “Do any of you have children?” Usually half or more of the panelists do. And then people start asking all these questions. Last year one woman almost started crying, because she had never seen a successful woman professor with children. Her professor had said: “You can’t have children. You’ll never succeed.” But those of us who have been through it have ideas that can help others make it work.
KIRSHENBAUM Is there a role for Title IX, the U.S. law that forbids sex discrimination in federally funded education programs? Usually people talk about Title IX with regard to sports, but can it help create opportunities for women in science and engineering?
ALI No recipient of federal funds can have any discriminatory practice, intentional or not, that harms a particular gender. To determine whether institutions are in compliance with the law, the Office for Civil Rights looks at things such as whether women have equal access to advanced course work in high school as well as postsecondary schooling and graduate work. When we determine that discrepancies between men and women result from discriminatory practice, we vigorously enforce the law. We also rely on people on the ground to help make us aware of problems, which is vitally important in telling us how to target our investigatory resources.
KIRSHENBAUM Where are the biggest discrepancies between men and women in science and technology, and how can we tackle those?
STEITZ A recent report from the National Research Council tracked what happens to
women and men with Ph.D.s as they advance through their careers. At every point along the way, it’s more probable that men will move on to the next step. Where is that coming from? For one thing, when women apply to the nih for grants, their success rate is about equivalent to that of men, but they ask, on average, for 20 percent less money. Men also get more lab space, have better access to equipment at their universities, and have more administrative help. On the bright side, if women have mentors when they write grants, there’s a big leap in their success rate.
SEAGER Women should join a peer support group and find a mentor, because most of us lack access to the old boys’ network that’s naturally helping men most of the time. Whether those mentors are male or female is not as relevant. Find the people who can help you and give you advice at all levels. And be assertive, have confidence, and look out for yourself. Many women tend to put other people first, but that doesn’t work in science. To succeed, when you have a great idea you need to carry it out.
AUDIENCE MEMBER How can institutions make it easier for women to advance in their scientific careers and balance work with family life?
SEAGER Don’t have talks that everyone is supposed to attend right at the end of the day.
MALCOM Offer family leave for graduate and postdoctoral researchers. Set up child-care centers. It’s not just women who need this balance. These are the kinds of solutions that help people of both sexes to manage their dual roles.