Women in Academia
A critic of the idea that bias largely explains gender disparities in academia is not disputing the new study’s troubling results.
“The PNAS paper shows quite convincingly that sexism or discrimination most certainly plays a role. That’s too bad,” Alex B. Berezow, Ph.D., editor of Real Clear Science, told GEN. “As for explanations about why this is occurring (stereotypes, etc.), I would just be speculating. I don’t know.”
Dr. Berezow theorized about the disparity in National Review, where in a January 12, 2011, article titled, “Gender Discrimination in Science is a Myth,” he wrote: “The more likely explanation is simply one of preference: Women, for personal reasons, prefer not to enter the hard sciences.”
He cited a 2010 Cornell University study that reached that conclusion for women in five “math-intensive” fields. Only one biological field, endocrinology, was represented in the study by Stephen J. Ceci, Ph.D., and Wendy M. Williams, Ph.D., (the others were psychology, sociology, economics, and education).
Drs. Ceci and Williams said the disparity reflected two factors: preferences by women for other fields of study, and the need to balance career with caring for children or elderly parents. They rejected the view that the disparity reflected innate gender abilities or sexism, while acknowledging that gender bias was historically a factor in underrepresentation of women in math and science.
“While sexism in academia likely existed decades ago, today it is largely a myth,” Dr. Berezow concluded, adding: “Gender disparity, not gender discrimination, exists in academia, but it is a self-correcting phenomenon.” Self-correction will occur, he said, as women now receiving degrees move into faculty positions.
Speaking with GEN last week, Dr. Berezow stood by his conclusion: “The point of my piece in National Review (which I wrote long before this PNAS paper came out) was that there are other explanations for the gender disparity in academia than just sexism. That’s still true.”
Sexism or not, the disparity still exists. In their study, the Yale researchers cited the Council of Graduate Schools’ 2010 version of its annual Graduate Enrollment and Degrees report, noting the percentage of women awarded biology doctorates nationally rose 7.7% between 1999 and 2009. An updated version of the study released September 28 showed an 8.2% increase between 2001 and 2011. [The increases for men were 1.2% from 1999−2009 and 2.5% from 2001−11]. According to NSF, the percentage of women awarded biological science degrees soared from 42.9% in 1999 to 52.4% in 2009, the latest available year.
Some progress has occurred in hiring at the junior level, though not in tenured positions. According to Yale’s Women’s Faculty Forum (WFF), the percentage of women in nontenure biological sciences faculty positions more than doubled, to 37% (7 of 19) from 15% (3 of 20). However, just 19% of biology professors awarded tenure in 2011−12 (9 of 48) were women, barely budging from 18% (7 of 40) in 2001−02.
At Yale School of Medicine, WFF found, the percentage awarded tenure inched up to 22% (97 of 434) from 16% (59 of 360) in 2001–02. More women were hired in non-tenured faculty positions, up to 43% (376 of 865) in 2011−12 compared with 2001−02 (183 of 504).