AMS Notices March 2019
Information about key issues involving women and math
Articles and essays addressing issues of women and careers in math and science
Denial of Sexism in Science, Even When Presented with the Evidence discusses comments posted to articles regarding evidence of sexism in science. Seeing evidence contrary to one’s strong beliefs can actually make you believe that wrong thing more strongly. In this case, it’s perhaps not surprising that presenting evidence saying “sexism is a major problem in STEM fields” causes a proportion of male-identifying commenters to react defensively and aggressively, either denying the existence of sexism in science or justifying it.
A Future Segregated by Science? A New York Times op-ed column by Charles M. Blow on the under-representation of minorities and women in STEM careers. For instance, women make up about half the workforce but only 26% of STEM jobs. Minority students receive a disproportionately small proportion of STEM degrees, especially graduate degrees, and also experience barriers in getting hired by technology companies.
Belief that a field requires innate genius may keep women out: An article on a new study that finds the belief that a field requires innate genius or a “special aptitude that just can’t be taught” rather than motivation and sustained effort accounts for much of the gender disparity in PhDs. According to the authors, such perceptions appear to also account at least partially for why African-Americans as well as women are under-represented in many STEM fields.
Women Don’t Stick with the Sciences – Here’s Why: An essay in the New Republic by bioinformatics graduate student Rotem Ben-Shachar discussing why more women leave research careers than men. She concludes, “The lack of self-confidence among female scientists ultimately stems from a conflict between the stereotypes associated with a woman’s role in society and a woman’s perception of herself as a scientist. Acknowledging this conflict is crucial; only once we take note of all the consequences of this conflict will we be able to repair the leaky pipeline.”
Solve this Math Problem: The Gender Gap: Op-Ed in the LA Times by Francis Su, who passionately argues for recognizing and supporting women and diversity in general in the mathematical enterprise, ending with “In every corner of humanity, we must nurture that talent, or else our nation and world may overlook those whose discoveries could benefit and inspire us all.”
Maryam Mirzakhani is the first woman to win a Field Medal: “This is a great honor. I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians,” said Mirzakhani. “I am sure there will be many more women winning this kind of award in coming years.”
Harassment in Science, Replicated It will take chief executives, department heads, laboratory directors, professors, publishers and editors in chief to take a stand and say: Not on my watch. I don’t care if you’re my friend or my favorite colleague; we don’t treat women like that.”
Women Can Succeed in Corporate America, as Long as They Don’t Promote Other Women and One Reason Women Fare Worse in Negotiations? People Lie to Them are a pair of essay in Slate examining why women are not breaking the glass ceiling. Some of these social factors likely play in role academia as well, such as the effect of gender stereotypes: “Ultimately, encouraging women to act like men is a losing battle; the assertive moves that make men appear competent in the workplace backfire for women, who are perceived as cold and bossy instead. The problem doesn’t lie in women’s actual skills—it lies in stereotypes about what we’re capable of. And until we chip away at those, telling women to try harder won’t get us fair treatment.”
The Welcoming Side of Mathematics is an opinion piece in the AMS Notices by Allyn Jackson about the benefits of women-only programs like the Institute for Advanced Mathematics Women and Mathematics program (IAS-WaM). Quotes with reactions from a variety of participants provide a diverse set of perspectives.
What Women Need to Succeed in Science itemizes three crucial items to support women entering scientific careers: 1) mentoring throughout early part of career for aspiring scientists, 2) wider recognition of achievements of women in science, 3) positive image of how women scientists are viewed by the general public.
How to Get Women on Panels summarizes a study indicating that women’s limited participation in major meetings may be partly due to all-male selection panels for such meetings. The study found that the inclusion of even one woman on such selection committees has a major impact on who gets asked to speak.
“Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection” by Barnard President Debora Spar describes Spar’s book, in which she discusses the need for professional women to seek a balance and avoid perfectionism.
Preferences and Biases in Educational Choices and Labor Market Expectations: Shrinking the Black Box of Gender is a report released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York describing the results of an experiment investigating whether gender-related behavioral biases and preferences explain gender differences in college major choices and expected future earnings. The authors conclude that gender differences in overconfidence and competitiveness explain about 18 percent of the gender gap in earnings expectations.
Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science? is a New York Times Magazine article on the enduring social roadblocks and marginalization faced by women interested in subjects like physics and math, voiced by interviewed women faculty and students.
Mystery of the Missing Women in Science discusses the dearth of women entering math and science careers, suggesting that one cause is that women choose STEM careers less often than men, even when they are equally strong in math and science skills. To get more women scientists in the pipeline, we need to find ways to make math and science careers appealing to young women, starting in high school, if not earlier.
The Baby Penalty by Mary Ann Mason, whose research has found that women in academia pay a price for having families, at least partially due to the rigidity of the academic path to success. To mitigate the “baby penalty,” Mason recommends paid family leave for both mothers and fathers, especially for childbirth, a flexible workplace, a flexible career track, a re-entry policy, pay equity reviews, child-care assistance, dual-career assistance. There is evidence that universities and corporations who have actively created such policies gain an advantage in recruitment and retention.
American Council on Education’s effort to promote faculty work-family balance
The American Council on Education has launched a campaign asking college and university presidents to promote faculty career flexibility on their campuses. “We’ve found time and time again that flexible workplace policies make for happier, more committed faculty, which ultimately translates to better outcomes for our institutions and our students,” Molly Corbett Broad, ACE president, said in a news release announcing the National Challenge for Higher Education: Retaining a 21st Century Workforce.
Gender Balance at the Joint Statistical Meetings and in American Statistical Association activities
These articles in the AmStatNews explore the presence of women speakers at the major annual statistics meeting and award recipients in the ASA. Lots of interesting data is given, and concrete steps that can address some of the apparent disparities, such as widening the nomination pool to increase diversity, encouraging women members of committees to become chairs (which may currently be happening too infrequently), and applying guidelines to ensure fairness in the selection process. A further interesting observation in the 2nd article: “We see that the percentage of women among recipients of ASA awards is quite low and has not increased since the last decade. The numbers also reflect a general finding of the AWIS study that women are more likely to receive awards recognizing service than scientific achievement. It was noted by the study that ASA award committee members are presently 44.4% women. Extensive research on implicit stereotyping cited in the AWIS AWARDS workshop does indicate that just including women on award selection committees is necessary, but not sufficient, to ensure unbiased consideration, free of subconscious gender expectations. Perhaps even more importantly, comparing the list of awards to the list of sections indicates that predominant present interest areas of both men and women in the ASA, such as biometrics and social statistics, are not well captured by awards.”
Scholarly Publishing’s Gender Gap
Chronicle of Higher Education examines the gender publishing gap in a wide variety of fields. Mathematics is particularly unbalanced, with only 6.6% women authors in the math journals considered in this study.
How to Attack the Gender Wage Gap? Speak Up!
Women on average earn significantly less than men: per dollar earned by a white man, equivalent work earns 77 cents for white women; 69 cents for black women; 57 cents for Latina women. Coaching women in how to negotiate may be part of the solution to closing the wage gap.
The Next Step for Female Scientists
Brief article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Mary Ann Mason discussing recent improved policies of the NSF and various institutions, while lamenting the general dearth of family support policies, especially for grad students and post docs.
Study Questions Popular Explanation for Gender Gap in Math
“A new study casts doubt on the popular notion that a gender stereotype—namely, that girls are bad at math—explains why men dominate the higher levels of mathematics achievement and accomplishment. The researchers suggest that evidence is “weak at best” for what’s been called the “stereotype threat” explanation.”
NSF Supports Women in Science
“The National Science Foundation (NSF) is introducing 10-year initiative to provide increased flexibility to scientists wanting to start families, the White House announced today. Among the changes, the agency’s new policies will allow researchers to suspend their grants for up to a year to take leave for family reasons, including having or adopting a child. In addition, researchers will be able to apply for grant funds dedicated to paying technicians to maintain lab work during such leaves. The policy would also encourage increased use of “virtual” grant reviews that would allow researchers to do such work from home, and avoid traveling to the NSF headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.”
Women in Statistics Conference: How Can You Get Involved?
Through their strategic initiative program, the ASA has provided seed support for a “women in statistics” conference to be held in 2013. Amanda Golbeck, Lynn Palmer, and Jennifer Parker—current, future, and past presidents of the Caucus for Women in Statistics—and Dalene Stangl, chair of the ASA Committee on Women in Statistics are the organizers. The conference will bring together statisticians from academia, government, and industry to celebrate the contributions of women in statistics and promote the status of women in the field.