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Enhancing the academic careers of women in science, technology, engineering, & mathematics

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Persistent Myths About Gender Diversity

More recently, the National Academies (2007) have offered corollary evidence, compiled from several research studies, refuting commonly held beliefs regarding women – all races – in all academic disciplines, including science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).





The matter of “underrepresentation” on faculties is a function of how many women are qualified to enter these positions. Women’s representation decreases with each step up the tenure-track and academic leadership hierarchy – particularly among women of color – even in fields that have had a large proportion of women doctorates for 30 years. In fact, African American and First Nations women, although they are more likely than their male peers to earn PhDs, are less likely to hold academic positions.
Persons of color and White women are recipients of favoritism through affirmative-action programs. Affirmative action is meant to broaden searches to include more persons of color and White women, but not to select candidates on the basis of race or sex, which is illegal.
Academe is meritocracy and furthermore, changing the rules means that standards of excellence will be deleteriously affected. Although scientists like to believe that they select the best based on objective criteria, decisions about hiring and promoting are in reality influenced by biases — about race, sex, and age — that disproportionately weight stereotypically White and male qualities and thus have nothing do with the quality of a candidate’s work.
Women faculty – all races – are less productive than men, perhaps because they are more interested in family than in careers. Many academic women persist through their careers despite severe conflicts between their roles as parents and as scholars. These efforts, however, are often not recognized as representing the high level of dedication to their careers. Indeed, the publication productivity of women STEM faculty has increased over the last 30 years and is now comparable to men’s. The critical factor affecting publication productivity is access to institutional resources; marriage, children, and eldercare responsibilities have minimal effects.
The system as currently configured has worked well in producing great science; why change it? The global competitive balance has changed in ways that undermine America ‘s traditional STEM advantages. Career impediments based on race, gender, or ethnic biases deprive the nation of talented and accomplished researchers.


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