Are we there yet?

Mel’s post resonated with an article I read last week.  While Mel’s focus was generalized to women in business, the article I read was specific to women, like myself, in the life sciences. Here’s a rather disturbing excerpt: “Here’s the problem for life scientists: Women account for just under half of the PhDs awarded in the United States, but for only one quarter of those applying for academic positions and, nationwide in 2001, for only one tenth of full professors who had been tenured more than 10 years.” If you are interested in seeing the raw data, you can get it here. That is not to say that women cannot achieve great heights in whatever profession they choose, because they obviously can.

My Operations Management professor recently told a story about a colleague of hers who got her first faculty appointment at Harvard. She was not permitted in the Faculty Lounge because at that time it was men only. It is sometimes difficult to remember how recently things have changed and that reaching true equality in all reaches of society may simply take more time.

We are currently doing a search for a new faculty member at my research institute. A committee of five us recently met to select the top applications. One of the applicants, from whose name it was difficult to determine gender, had put his/her sex on the Curriculum Vitae. The chair of our committee, a male full professor who has been doing science longer than I have been alive, pointed this out and seemed perplexed as to why any candidate would feel this was relevant information. While there have been notable exceptions, I have found this attitude to be pervasive among my life-science colleagues. Therefore, I expect that in the coming years that the tenure ratios as universities will ultimately begin to reflect the ratios of PhDs earned.