File Under: Suspicions Confirmed

By Christine Cupaiuolo |

From The New York Times:

Women in science and engineering are hindered not by lack of ability but by bias and “outmoded institutional structures” in academia, an expert panel reported yesterday. The panel, convened by the National Academy of Sciences, said that in an era of global competition the nation could not afford “such underuse of precious human capital.” Among other steps, the report recommends altering procedures for hiring and evaluation, changing typical timetables for tenure and promotion, and providing more support for working parents.

“Unless a deeper talent pool is tapped, it will be difficult for our country to maintain our competitiveness in science and engineering,” the panel’s chairwoman, Donna E. Shalala, said at a news conference at which the report was made public. […]

The panel dismissed the idea, notably advanced last year by Lawrence H. Summers, then the president of Harvard, that the relative dearth of women in the upper ranks of science might be the result of “innate” intellectual deficiencies, particularly in mathematics.

If there are cognitive differences, the report says, they are small and irrelevant. In any event, the much-studied gender gap in math performance has all but disappeared as more girls enroll in demanding classes. Even among very high achievers, the gap is narrowing, the panelists said.

Read the NYT story here. Or visit The National Academies website for the press release describing the study. You can also purchase the full report — “Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering” — or read it for free online (scroll down on the purchasing page).

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