During a November 10 press call on “Women Scientists and American Competitiveness,” speakers suggested that Title IX should be used to focus on “educational equity” and not just athletic equity.
One speaker stressed, in particular, the importance of reaching out to federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes for Health (NIH), the Department of Defense (DOD), and the Department of Energy (DOE) for additional grant money. (Predoctoral women received 63% of the NIH’s awards in 2007, but only 25% of “competitive faculty grants” that same year, reports a recently released Center for American Progress (CAP) study).
The speakers also suggested that universities should increase pre-tenure benefits for female scientists in order to encourage women to remain research professors following childbirth.
“…women in the sciences who are married with children are 35 percent less likely to enter a tenure track position after receiving a Ph.D. than married men with children…And they are 27 percent less likely than their male counterparts to achieve tenure upon entering a tenure-track job. By contrast, single women without young children are roughly as successful as married men with children in attaining a tenure-track job, and a little more successful than married women with children in achieving tenure. Married women without children also do not fare quite as well as men.”
Female research scientists had a much better chance of attaining tenure—in fact, an almost equal one—if they did so after their children had reached a higher age. According to the researchers, “the average age for tenure receipt among tenure-track faculty in the sciences” went past 39 by 2003, causing tenure policies to conflict with women’s child-bearing capacity. “In fact, the most common age for women faculty in the UC system to have children is between 38 to 40 years of age,” write Dr. Marc Goulden, Dr. Karie Frasch and Dr. Mary Ann Mason.
In addition, “Women postdoctoral scholars who had a child while a postdoctoral scholar were twice as likely to change their career goal as men and twice as likely to do so as women with no children and no future plans to have them,” they write.
“The importance of this report is [it] points out the importance of family support for women that [sic] move forward to science to the highest level,” said University of Miami President Donna Shalala during the press call. She asserted that “fundamental point is an economic one and that is we cannot afford to leave out half our talent if we’re going to compete internationally and not including women, particularly women that already have the training in the mainstream American science and research, is a disaster for our country…”
But do university benefit structures motivate women to leave science altogether? Goulden, co-author of the study, said that the questions used in the UC Berkeley questionnaire, as a part of a larger study, did not differentiate between career goals in and out of science. By not coding for this, it is impossible to determine how many of the science majors surveyed desired to remain within this field, albeit in the business or government sector.
The CAP report focuses on how women are leaving scientific research at a faster rate than men, but their data shows that the women studied shift their goals away from “professor with research emphasis” towards “professor with teaching emphasis,” “other academics,” and “business, government, other” fields. The surveyed women heavily favored the last category at the end of the study. In contrast, men favored careers as research scientists most at both the beginning and end of the study.
But in terms of affinity toward a career as a research scientist, both Ph.D. and postdoctoral female scientists decreased their desire for this position by 13%, according to the researchers. Males’ appreciation of this profession declined in both categories by 11% during the same time period. In other words, as the career goals of male and female Ph.D. students and postdoctoral scholars in the scientific field evolved, the genders diverged on this point by a mere two percentage points.
“Unless a concerted effort is undertaken by research universities and federal agencies to remedy the current situation, women with familial concerns are likely to disproportionately leak out of the science pipeline to the detriment of our future global competitiveness,” write Goulden et al.
“Federal agencies have a shared responsibility with universities in providing adequate family responsive benefits for America’s researchers,” they argue. The authors also assert that the enforcement of Title IX, in turn, “requires” that “research universities receiving federal funds”
1) “treat pregnancy as a temporary disability for purposes of calculating job-related benefits, including any employer-provided leave,” and
2) “provide unpaid, job-protected leave for a ‘reasonable period of time’ if the institution does not maintain a leave policy for employees.”
“Title IX reviews should look at these policies to ensure that universities are in compliance,” write the authors. However, if the success of Title IX as applied to college sports is any indication, federal intervention on this issue runs the risk of chilling male participation in the sciences.
Bethany Stotts is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.