Women are shunning academic careers in math-intensive fields because the lifestyle is incompatible with motherhood, researchers at Cornell University found in a study to be published next month in American Scientist Magazine.
Universities have long been criticized for hiring and evaluation policies that discriminate against women, but the findings of this new study point to the female biological clock as a main reason why so few women end up as professors in fields such as math, engineering, physics and computer science.
A woman who wants a family looks at the rigorous path to a tenured position and considers how old she will be before she can start a family and how little time she will have to raise her children. Many of those women opt for a more flexible career.
"Universities have been largely inflexible about anything other than the standard time table, which is you kill yourself for years and only then would you consider getting pregnant," said Wendy Williams, a human development professor at Cornell who co-authored the study with her husband, Stephen Ceci.
Williams and Ceci analyzed data about the academic careers of men and women with and without children. Before women became mothers, they had careers equivalent to or more successful than their male peers. But once children entered the equation, the dynamic changed.
Women in other academic fields such as the humanities and social sciences face similar hurdles and often leave academia as well. But because there are so many women in those Ph.D. programs, enough ultimately stay to amount to a critical mass of female professors.
In math-heavy fields, however, women make up a tiny minority of the graduate students. So when the rare few who make it through a Ph.D. program leave because universities are insensitive to their needs as mothers, the net result is virtually no women represented on faculty rosters, the study said.
Generation STEM is national research report investigating girls' perceptions, attitudes, and interests in the subjects and general field of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) from the voices of girls themselves. The report consists of a literature review, as well as qualitative (focus group) and quantitative (survey) research with 1,000 girls across the country. The study finds that girls are interested in STEM and aspire to STEM careers, but need further exposure and education about what STEM careers can offer, and how STEM can help girls make a difference in the world.
n all scientific fields of study except biological sciences men continue to outnumber women. The fields of physical sciences and computer sciences and engineering show the highest gender disparity. Why does this underrepresentation matter?
Fewer female graduates in scientific higher education translate into fewer women working in scientific research and occupations. For example, at Rutgers, women are only 19.5 percent of tenured and tenure-track science faculty.
Rosalind C. Barnett and Caryl Rivers, the coauthors of "The Truth About Girls and Boys: Challenging Toxic Stereotypes About Our Children," argue that as boys and girls become more equal in math skills, everyone benefits.
Do boys lose out when girls start to do better in math? Do girls' successes lead to a "boy crisis"? An important new study says the answer is a definitive no. When girls do better in society, both sexes benefit. Gender equity is good for everybody.
And boys and girls are becoming more equal, globally, in math performance. The study by Jonathan M. Kane and Janet E. Mertz of the University of Wisconsin analyzed scores from more than half a million fourth- and eighth-graders from 86 countries. It found essentially no gender differences between girls and boys in math performance.
The students came from Western and Asian democracies and developing countries, as well as Muslim countries notable for their sex-segregated classes. But the really surprising finding was that the more equal the societies were around gender, the better everybody did in math. As the researchers conclude, "gender equity and other sociocultural factors … are the primary determinants of mathematics performance at all levels for both boys and girls."
The nearly $600,000 grant also seeks to help advance women who are teaching in colleges and universities.
While representation in science and technology fields has improved during the past half-century, “women remain vastly underrepresented among working engineers and in many STEM fields,” said Joanne Smieja, a GU chemistry and biochemistry professor, who is leading the effort.
A 2010 study by the American Association of University Women concluded that there are three reasons for the inequality between men and women in the sciences: “Social and environmental factors shaping girls’ achievements and interest in math and science; the college environment; and continuing importance of bias, often at an unconscious level, blocking women from STEM.”
The five-year project is in its first year.
The grant money will help Smieja lead a nationwide network of 70 female faculty members from 12 undergraduate institutions in an effort to change the “current culture in STEM fields.” The project will use mentoring to encourage female faculty to advance in their careers.
The number of women obtaining patents has grown at an accelerating rate over the past 35 years and in numbers considerably higher than previously reported, a new study commissioned by the National Women's Business Council (NWBC) has found.
The largest spike came in 2010, when 22,984 patents were granted to women, a 35 percent jump over the previous year, according to the NWBC study. In 2009, women received 17,061 patents, a 4.5 percent increase over the 16,321 issued in 2008.
The details are part of the preliminary findings from an extensive review of patents granted between 1975 and 2010 by the U.S. Patents and Trademarks Office. NWBC commissioned a private research company, Delixus, Inc., to conduct the study to determine the rates of women who apply for and receive patents. The study, which also will examine data on women with trademarks, is the first of its kind to explore this issue in depth, mainly because federal patent and trademark applicants did not ask for gender information. Newly-passed legislation will allow USPTO to start tracking gender data this year.
Research on intellectual property can help shed light on the potential growth of women-owned businesses, said NWBC Chair Donna James.
Details of the full report, which will include numbers on women, patents, trademarks over time and by industry, will be released during an upcoming news event at the USPTO headquarters in early March. NWBC will commemorate a 35-year history of women inventors by featuring a new female inventor every day on its website during March, which is Women's History Month.
The NWBC is a nonpartisan federal advisory council created to serve as an independent source of advice and policy recommendations to the president, Congress and the U.S. Small Business Administration on economic issues of importance to women business owners.
NWBC is the government's only independent voice for women entrepreneurs. It is made up of 15 prominent women business owners and leaders of women's business organizations. Each member is appointed to a three-year term.
For female would-be entrepreneurs, these challenges make it difficult to pursue a potentially rewarding career path. In the United Kingdom, for example, 15% of businesses are led by women, yet women account for only 7% of entrepreneurs in science, engineering or technology fields.
“Women don't ask for opportunities and they undersell their abilities and expertise,” says Sharon Vosmek, chief executive of Astia, a non-profit organization in San Francisco, California, that supports women-led, high-growth companies in technology and the life sciences around the world. Often, she adds, women miss opportunities because they don't know how to take advantage of their scientific credentials.
When it comes to pitching business ideas, women are often less aggressive and more cautious than men — which can be interpreted as a lack of confidence, undermining the pitch. Women are also “more open to a discussion about the cons as well as the pros of a potential business — which can make an idea look less attractive to an investor”, says Joanna Horobin, president and chief executive of Syndax Pharmaceuticals in Waltham, Massachusetts.
Despite the preeminent role women play in healthcare, a recent study by RockHealth uncovered some stunning statistics about the paucity of women running startups (at least that are getting funded). Consider that while women compose 73% of medical and health services managers, only 4% of healthcare CEOs were women. In the 2011 Venture Funded Digital Health database that RockHealth created, they looked at organizations who received over $2M in venture funding — none had a female CEO. The report also outlines other interesting statistics such as the percentage of TEDMED speakers who were female.
It’s another engineering “design challenge” at Techbridge, an after-school program for girls that encourages interest in STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—subjects. Close to 30 girls are here this day at Arroyo High School, one of 21 Techbridge sites in California’s Bay Area that serve more than 600 elementary and secondary girls in total, close to 90 percent of whom are minority students.
While Techbridge still operates a number of after-school programs like Arroyo’s, its other related STEM initiatives, scaled by large national funders like the National Science Foundation, Google, and the Noyce Foundation have enabled the organization to reach in excess of 10,000 girls in the out-of-school-time space to date.
Those efforts coincide with the national momentum to teach STEM curricula outside traditional school walls, targeting minority, underprivileged, and female students not well represented in the STEM professions. Such environments could be a catalyst, some believe, that shifts students’ attitudes about STEM through innovative teaching methods not bound by the same protocol of the school day.
According to Techbridge Executive Director Linda Kekelis, the statistics on who pursues STEM careers has more to do with conditioning than predisposition. With the right curriculum and right environment, she said, it’s possible to change a student’s mind.
A major study of recent international data on school mathematics performance casts doubt on some common assumptions about gender and math achievement — in particular, the idea that girls and women have less ability due to a difference in biology.
"We tested some recently proposed hypotheses that try to explain a supposed gender gap in math performance and found they were not supported by the data," says Janet Mertz, senior author of the study and a professor of oncology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Instead, the Wisconsin researchers linked differences in math performance to social and cultural factors.
The new study, by Mertz and Jonathan Kane, a professor of mathematical and computer sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, was published today (Dec. 12, 2011) in Notices of the American Mathematical Society. The study looked at data from 86 countries, which the authors used to test the "greater male variability hypothesis" famously expounded in 2005 by Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard, as the primary reason for the scarcity of outstanding women mathematicians.