Science is evaluated by it’s quality. At least that is the ideal. In reality, there are a lot of biases and inequalities in play. While exploring the topic in Connected Courses I stumbled upon a recent report on women in academic science. This report by Stephen Ceci and Wendy Williams highlights the early educational experiences for girls in mathematical subjects as a cause for smaller number of women ending up in math intensive careers. Their researched showed very little or no bias in academic career paths like getting tenure between male and female applicants. And this prompted other scientists to critique their research methods. Ceci’s and Williams’ conclusions were questioned and the use of observational correlation data critiqued as it opposed other data collected in controlled experiments and cannot directly point to causes.
According to Ceci and Williams it seems that the skewing of academic workforce in mathematical fields starts very early. And according to other research, the attitudes towards women and girls in these fields has not been as supportive as it could be. This can be seen clearly in the case of Ben Barres. After his sex change, others attitudes changed drastically.
“By far,” Barres wrote, “the main difference I have noticed is that people who don’t know I am transgendered treat me with much more respect” than when he was a woman. “I can even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man.” (Washington Post, 2006)
Should women still work a little bit harder against the public opinion and social pressures to become engineers or mathematicians, if they so desire? I think not. While Ceci’s and Williams’ research show some decrease in discrimination based on sex in academia, I think they are quite right to point towards the earlier experiences as an opportunity for improvement. Together with improving working conditions and satisfaction of women at their math intense jobs, the general opinion of women’s abilities and suitability to these careers can become more welcoming.