Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Pipeline Problem (I): Patriarchy doesn't have the balls; women have the heart; and the 1% keeps rolling in the cash.

Please regard the next few posts as an open letter to the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Advance Program and a personal case study from a panoramic view that distance and time allow.

I'll be addressing the Pipeline Problem: Academia's difficulties in recruiting and retaining women, particularly in the STEM fields.

The Pipeline Problem is a question of considerable shared interest: For myself, from an historical perspective; for NSF and universities, as evidenced by the grant dollars awarded to study the problem and the continued commitment to diversity; and also for industry, technology and politics because the obstacles in those environments are very similar in terms of biases, harassment, pay gaps, promotions and retention.

I'll have some actionable recommendations before I'm done. I'll also point to some issues that I doubt universities can resolve without more concerted changes across our society.

Moreover, until the problems of sexist biases, sexual harrassment, pay gaps and promotions are resolved, the stratification of effects in terms of the socio-economic class hierarchy are little more than window dressing and lip service to gender and racial equality. It represents an enormous waste of resources and effort on the part of people, families, communities, and education systems. It's a shame that academia and its supporters haven't done a better job investigating and resolving the problem given science's commitment to ethics.

I'm writing, in part, in response to the recently published study by Williams and Ceci (2015) and related commentary (e.g., Lehmann, 2015). The conclusion reached by Williams and Ceci (2014), namely that sexism is not present in academia, is flat out wrong precisely because the variables they use to control their data sets are the variables in which gender and racial bias are most operational. Gender and racial biases held by all genders collude with other causes and thus typically escape detection.*

The good news is that having served on hiring committees, as well as having been offered a tenure-track appointment at each university I interviewed, university departments are making efforts to bring women and minorities into the ranks. Those efforts shouldn't curtailed, at least not until the numbers are substantially more representative of the diversity in awarded degrees.

The efforts made in hiring, however, are where the good news ends. Women are still navigating the razor's edge of a double or, more truthfully, triple standard that men rarely, if ever, have to face. (That men have little experience facing a similar triple standard is perhaps to the detriment of all). The razor's edge of the triple standard by which women are explicitly and implicitly judged by students, as well as male and female faculty and colleagues include: productivity, femininity and nuturing. I would further argue that conflation of the latter two variables has been at least one source of confusion in addressing the Pipeline Problem.

The conclusion of Williams and Ceci that women are choosing family over career is an ad hominem and/or ad feminam argument since (a) most men in academics have families, in other words the issue of marriage and family is never used to evaluate the careers and characters of men; (b) women entering graduate school have decided in favor of careers; and (c) in today's economic environment most women are employed and the statistics in business and technology aren't much, if at all, better as the recent statistics gathered by the PEW Research Center suggest.

From Wikipedia: an Ironic illustration showing Sutherland Highlander wearing exaggerated Feather bonnet observing "By Jove, what extraordinary headgear you women do wear!"

In future posts I'll address the various ways academia fails to adequately provide women with the resources they need to survive the obstacles they encounter on the tenure track. The raw data are much more discouraging than the doctored numbers of Williams and Ceci would lead us to believe. For example, a recent study by Jane Junn at the University of Southern California found that only 55% of women and minorities were promoted, in constrast to 92% of white males. (Scroll to the top of the link to see data from other countries.) Dismal results of this nature also point to the method by which the illusion of equality on campuses is maintained as discussed in: Ivy League Stiffs its Female Profs. If you look at any given STEM department's webpage, the majority of the women's faces you'll see are staff, lecturers, adjuncts, researchers and assistant professors. Finally, I feel obliged to mention one more point, a statistic I haven't seen discussed, and that is the proportion of those fully tenured women that have reached their position without either (a) a spouse appointed at the same university or (b) former mentors appointed at the same university. Both of these categories of women are swimming with the current by virtue of support other women don't have. (I am not at all against spousal hiring programs, I highly recommend them, but the fact that other women don't have access to the various types of support spousal hiring provides needs to be recognized.) In short:


*Update 1.06.16: See Zuleyka Zevallos's critique of Williams and Ceci in The Myth About Women in Science? Bias in the Study of Gender Inequality in STEM.

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