Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Remove the Career Obstacles for Women in Science

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Remove the Career Obstacles for Women in Science

Article excerpt

THE gateway to careers in science and engineering is opening more readily for women these days. But women still find the road leading to that gateway and the career paths beyond it strewn with obstacles.

There is a big difference between making career opportunities available to women and actually smoothing the way for females to take full advantage of such opportunities. As a new manifesto on the subject from American astronomers puts it, "women should not have to be clones of male astronomers in order to participate in the mainstream of astronomical research." That also applies to science and engineering generally.

The astronomers' statement focuses on what it calls "the need to develop a scientific culture within which both women and men can work effectively." Traditional "affirmative action" can mandate equal treatment of men and women. But unless the attitudes and expectations of colleagues, supervisors, and decisionmakers recognize inherent gender differences, that treatment is unlikely to be truly equal.

A university, for example, can provide part-time appointments that enable young woman professors to pursue a research and teaching career and to carry out family responsibilities. Yet, when these women are considered for tenure (lifetime appointment), faculty committees may judge their work by productivity standards established for full-time male counterparts. This can unfairly bias the decision against an otherwise brilliant woman scientist - one who ultimately would be back to full-time work.

Women may have styles of thinking and expression that don't conform to traditional male notions of how scientists think, talk, and act. This creates often unconscious pressure for women to be more like men. Sexual harassment by male colleagues compounds the problem.

Daniel E. Koshland, editor of the journal Science, has observed that many successful women scientists have "succeeded by being even more imaginative than their male colleagues, by being willing to work longer hours or by giving up responsibilities to home and family. …

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