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[C&EN, Oct. 1, 2001]

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Willie Pearson Jr.

Donna J. Nelson

Héctor D. Abruña

Harry Morrison

Judith P. Klinman

Billy Joe Evans

George L. McLendon

Paula T. Hammond

Bradford B. Wayland

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October 1, 2001
Volume 79, Number 40
CENEAR 79 40 pp. 100-103
ISSN 0009-2347
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Panel discusses why women, minorities are underrepresented on chemical faculties


At the American Chemical Society national meeting in Chicago in August, a distinguished panel of professors from some of the top research universities in the U.S. examined the paradox that has been intriguing, perplexing, and aggravating a wide array of people: Women and many minorities have gained power and influence in many fields of academia, industry, and government. Why, then, are they almost invisible on the chemistry faculties of the top 50 leading research universities?

The two-hour session, organized by the ACS Committee on Science, attracted several hundred people, as well as plenty of statistics, passionate speeches, and possible answers. These questions were also addressed at several other sessions in Chicago.

Willie Pearson Jr., chairman of the School of History, Technology & Society at Georgia Institute of Technology's Ivan Allen College, kicked off the discussion with a broad look at the general status of women and underrepresented minorities among Ph.D. recipients and on university faculties. Underrepresented minorities (URMs) are defined as African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans.

Women as a group have made huge progress between 1966 and 1999. They have gone from receiving only 8% (924) of all Ph.D.s in science and engineering in 1966 to 35% (9,084) of science and engineering doctorates in 1999. These statistics include social science doctorates, which skews the interpretation because the percentage of women in such fields as psychology is higher than in fields such as physics, chemistry, and engineering. In chemistry, he pointed out, ample data show that, although women now receive about a third of all Ph.D.s, very few of them are on the chemistry faculties of the top 50 research universities as defined by the National Research Council or by National Science Foundation funding (see page 98).

SHOCKED! Abruña ticked off the various reasons that many chemistry faculties lack women.

The special session at the ACS meeting in Chicago, "Diversity in the Top 50 Universities: The Challenge to Lead," was sponsored by the ACS Committee on Science. Cosponsoring organizations included the National Science Foundation; the American Institute of Chemical Engineers; the Council for Chemical Research; the ACS Division of Professional Relations; the ACS Committees on Minority Affairs, on Professional Training, and on Education; and the ACS Women Chemists and Younger Chemists Committees.

FOR URMS, the situation is much bleaker. Pearson pointed out that, according to NSF, only 4% of science and engineering doctorates awarded in 1999 went to Hispanics and African Americans and only 0.7% of such doctorates were awarded to Native Americans. "These data also show that there have been only gradual increases in the proportion of science and engineering doctoral degrees to URMs," he said.

Pearson referenced the study by University of Oklahoma chemistry professor Donna J. Nelson that was reported in a variety of publications, including C&EN (June 4, page 67). Working under Nelson's direction, students collected diversity data from the 50 chemistry departments identified by NSF as having spent the most money on chemical research. All 50 departments responded. The results showed that, of the 1,637 tenured/ tenure track faculty at the 50 departments, only 43 were identified as URMs. Hispanics made up 1.3% of the total (22); African Americans, 1.1% (18); and Native Americans, 0.2% (three). Even when compared with chemistry Ph.D.s awarded in the 1991–99 period, the numbers are low: Caucasians received 78.2% of the Ph.D.s; Asians, 15.9%; Hispanics, 3.0%; African Americans, 2.4%; and Native Americans, 0.4%.

Pearson went a step further in pointing out that when one looks at the 50 departments for the period 1994–99, there is further disturbing news: These top 50 departments produced only 233 African American, Hispanic, and Native American Ph.D.s in chemistry. Two departments awarded no Ph.D.s to URMs during that time frame; six departments awarded one Ph.D.; and four awarded 10 to 15 Ph.D.s.

"What can we conclude from this?" Pearson asked. From his own studies in the early 1990s, Pearson found that "80% felt that race matters and that race hampers career advancement."

Summing up, Pearson said, "There is a complex relationship between gender, race, education, and employment status. It is not a simple linear progression ... and merely increasing the numbers does not equal success. Moreover, assuming that the problem resides wholly in women and underrepresented minorities is not the solution. Many people would like to believe, 'If we could just fix the women ...' But it's not a deficit in the women."

Pearson also noted that a decreasing number of white males are choosing to study for Ph.D.s in science and engineering. "This shows that our understanding of the processes that lead to different outcomes in science and engineering for women and URMs is incomplete. We need a better understanding of the processes" that lead people to select science and engineering as a major and what happens after they receive their degrees. "Science is not just about talent, because opportunities are not uniform," he concluded.

Following Pearson's well-received keynote address, panel members addressed various questions. Héctor D. Abruña, Emile M. Chamot Professor of Chemistry at Cornell University, and Harry Morrison, chemistry professor and dean of science at Purdue University, addressed the question "Why are the top 50 ranked universities in chemistry unable to hire female and URM doctorates that they have produced?"

Abruña brought laughter to the somber audience with his opening remark that the question reminded him of the famous scene in the movie "Casablanca" in which Capt. Louis Renault tells Rick, "I am shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!"

"It is obvious why women won't come to our faculties," he said. "We expect them to work twice as hard as men, to serve on committees, to be nurturing," and a hundred other things while carrying out their research, mentoring graduate students, and having a personal life. "We have to change these schemes," he insisted. "If we continue the schemes as they are, it will look the same in 20 years."

At Purdue, Morrison noted, "women have made great strides, but we still need to have a level playing field." Some of the things Purdue has done to encourage the hiring of women faculty is ensure that every search committee have at least one woman on it, pay special attention to "trailing spouses" who need a position, and address family care issues. Morrison noted that "we have failed miserably in increasing the number of minorities at Purdue, and I'm not nearly as sanguine about changing that situation."

HOW WELCOME? Evans (right) and Klinman said that women and minorities have been marginalized at institutions for many years.
THE NEXT QUESTION--"When the top 50 universities recruit females and URMs, why don't they stay?"--was addressed by University of California, Berkeley, biochemistry and molecular biology professor Judith P. Klinman and University of Michigan chemistry professor Billy Joe Evans.

Klinman joined the faculty at UC Berkeley in 1978, as the first woman on the chemistry faculty and the first to get tenure. "At Berkeley, women stay unless they are not given tenure," she noted. In addition, the trailing spouse issue is important. At UC Berkeley, there are several examples of tenured husband and wife teams in the chemistry and biochemistry departments.

But it goes beyond finding a job for their spouses. "Women have felt marginalized at Berkeley--and at ACS," she said, noting that very few women receive ACS awards. Also, the tenure clock works against women who want to have children. "Some universities stop the tenure clock," she admitted, "but do they stop it long enough?" Klinman also cited the Massachusetts Institute of Technology study that found that women face discrimination repeatedly in the size of laboratories and office space, allocation of research funds, inclusion on important committees, and awards and promotions (C&EN, March 29, 1999, page 6).

Evans was even more direct. "Minorities have traditionally and historically not been welcome" at research universities. "And the universities have never said they are sorry," he said. "And now it's a lot like the housing situation. With segregation, we couldn't live in certain neighborhoods. Now we can, but we don't. You get tired of having your humanity denied. The scientific enterprise is a humanistic activity, and minorities are constantly beaten down.

"Graduate education holds the key," he continued. "I don't think we'll get rid of the hate and hostility. But we must train our women and minorities to survive in an arid setting."

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In response to the question "Why are women less successful than men in obtaining a doctorate degree at the top 50 universities?" University of Pennsylvania chemistry professor Bradford B. Wayland noted that each year the statistics have improved. According to statistics that his department has compiled, "women and men have very nearly the same level of success in achieving a Ph.D. at Penn. ... The more significant issue is the small number of women faculty members compared to the proportion getting Ph.D.s."

MIT associate professor of chemical engineering Paula T. Hammond and Princeton University R. W. Moore Professor of Chemistry and chemistry department chairman George L. McLendon discussed the question "What factors are enabling some top 50 universities to grant a higher percentage of Ph.D.s to women?"

When a university conveys the message that it is ready, willing, and able to accept women and URMs, they come, Hammond said. "Women and URMs are looking for collaborative, interactive environments. Universities have personalities, and those that discourage collaborations are unsuccessful in getting women to come and stay. Successful universities have been able to package their programs to show their humanistic side." Hammond said that the questions women should ask when they think about going to a university for a Ph.D. are, "Is the science exciting?" and "Will I be valued?" When a person is "put down, they are discouraged from creating and innovating," she said.

McLendon noted that his lab is almost all women and minorities. He isn't sure what the reason is, but joked that "a crisis at Princeton is when you find out that Yale is doing something better." Princeton has a graduate research organization for women and has looked carefully at its seminar list to get more women as speakers. Women have gone from 10% of speakers to 30% in just the past few years. Princeton has abolished the tenure clock, which is more amenable to women who want to have children.

"Academic institutions are intrinsically monastic institutions that were created in the 13th century," he said wryly. "They might need a little fine-tuning." And with that understatement, the audience laughed. Time ran out during the question-and-answer period, but it was clear that this is a topic that continues to attract attention.

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How To Fill The Pipeline With Women

The path from a bachelor's degree in science to a faculty position loses women at almost every step of the way. It's what is known as the "leaky pipeline." Although the leaky pipeline is a disturbing phenomenon, it's not the only influence on the number of women present in the higher echelons of science today. Before the pipeline can lose women, it has to attract girls.

The National Council for Research on Women (NCRW) recently released a study investigating women and girls' interests in science before they enter the leaky pipeline. Called "Balancing the Equation: Where are Women and Girls in Science, Engineering, and Technology?" the study not only looks at the results of a leaky pipeline, but researches the pipeline's feeder programs: elementary and secondary education.

Science and math disciplines lose most of their female enthusiasts between the fourth and eighth grades, the study indicates. Although these school-aged girls often have grades similar to those of their male counterparts, they show less confidence in their scientific knowledge. These girls also tend to have less definite ideas than boys about preparing for careers in science or math.

In high school, a growing number of girls are enrolling in advanced science and math classes. And more girls are taking advanced placement tests than in the past. These numbers, however, vary widely according to discipline. While 55% of the biology advanced placement test takers are girls, they account for only 20% of the students taking the computer science AP exam.

To encourage young women in science, engineering, and technology, "'Balancing the Equation" makes several recommendations: Girls will be more interested in the sciences if they are actively encouraged both inside and outside of the classroom. This includes the involvement of the school board, superintendent, and teachers as well as parents and community leaders. Girls' interest in science can also be sparked by using interactive teaching methods such as hands-on laboratory experience and by combining computers and technology with other disciplines such as history or language. A number of these innovative programs were described at the recent American Chemical Society meeting in Chicago in a symposium entitled "Steel or Clay: What Is Happening to Women in the Career Pipeline?"

Although these types of recommendations are not particularly new, the NRCW report contains an extensive directory of up-to-date resources and programs aimed at bringing more women into science and engineering. NCRW publications may be ordered from the organization's website, http://www.ncrw.org.--ALLISON BYRUM

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