“I can’t believe I had to learn about these amazing and brilliant women from a movie! Why didn’t we learn about them in school?” lamented an African American friend and colleague. I felt the same way when I saw the movie Hidden Figures, a true story about the African American female mathematicians, scientists, and engineers who worked at NASA in the early days of the space program in the mid-twentieth century. They pushed against humiliations inside and outside their workplace, including racial segregation in their schools, dining rooms, bathrooms, and work spaces. They worked with lesser titles and large pay inequities to perform calculations of orbital trajectories and to solve engineering problems, making space travel possible.
Women have enrolled in law school in equal numbers with men in the United States for the last twenty years, and minority enrollment has also steadily increased during this period. Recent studies, compiled into a series of articles by New York Times reporter Elizabeth Olson show both good news and bad news about the current status of women and minorities in law firms.
Olson reports good news based on a study by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP). This study shows that women and minorities made small gains in 2016:
- Women made up 22.13 percent of partners, up from 21.46 percent in 2015.
The United Kingdom and Australia have significantly increased the number of women on corporate boards in recent years, while representation in the United States has stalled. Nneka Orji of The Glasshammer reports that female representation in the United Kingdom’s FTSE 100 company boardrooms increased from 12.5 percent in 2011 to 26 percent in 2016. Similarly, Alexandra Spring writes in the Guardian that 26 percent of the director positions in Australia’s ASX 200 companies are now held by women, with a target of 30 percent by 2018.
The Massachusetts legislature just unanimously passed the strongest equal pay law in the country. In spite of a legal prohibition against gender-based pay discrimination passed by the state in 1945, the gender wage gap has persisted. Shirley Leung of the Boston Globe reports that currently
- Women in Massachusetts, in general, make eighty-two cents for every dollar a man earns
- Black women fare worse at sixty-one cents for every dollar a man earns
- Latinas fare even worse at fifty cents per dollar
Recently, during a women’s leadership program I was facilitating, a participant, Amy, had an insight. She had been complaining about being exhausted and stressed all the time while trying to juggle a full-time job and family life—she loved her demanding job and her family, but she had no time for herself and was tired all the time. What was her insight? She realized that her husband expected her to do almost all the work of maintaining their home and family and did not really do much to share this load. She had never seen so clearly that she was carrying an unfair share of the burden, and she had also taken it for granted that this was her role. She now began to question these assumptions.
To the surprise of many, a large new study found a persistent gender pay gap for female physicians. Catherine Saint Louis reports in the New York Times that contrary to previous studies of physician salaries, which drew from incomplete data and could be easily dismissed, this study draws on a large objective sample of ten thousand physician faculty members at twenty-four public medical schools in the United States. The researchers carefully controlled for a variety of factors that can influence income, such as volume of patients seen, years since residency, specialty, and age. Saint Louis reports that after adjusting for these factors, the researchers found the following discrepancies:
Why are there so few women in senior management in the banking and investment industry, also known as Wall Street? In spite of a plethora of diversity committees, women’s leadership programs and retreats, and inclusion training in Wall Street firms for at least the last two decades, the representation of women in senior positions has not changed much. A major investment bank has never had a female CEO, and only 2 percent of hedge fund managers are women.
Where are the senior women scholars? Universities have been concerned about the underrepresentation of women at senior tenured levels for more than twenty years, especially in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines. I wrote about several studies seeking to explain this dearth of senior women scholars in a previous article. In response to the underrepresentation of women, many of these institutions implemented gender-neutral family-friendly policies in the 1990s. Justin Wolfers, an economist writing for the New York Times, reports new research on the careers of economists in the United States that shows surprising, unintended consequences of these policies for female economists.
Every so often things happen in the world that, for a moment, make underlying biases and stereotypes visible that are usually underground and hard to see. I believe this happened in the United States with the subtle, and not-so-subtle, emergence of racism when Barack Obama ran for president, was elected, and tried to govern. I believe gender bias and sexism are emerging now with the first-ever nomination of a woman, Hillary Clinton, by a major party for the presidency in the United States, and with the election of Theresa May as Britain’s new prime minister.
3 Reasons Why There are Fewer Women in STEM Professions: New Research Brings Hidden Barriers to Light
The fact that there are so few women in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) professions has been a mystery for a long time. A. Hope Jahren of the New York Times writes that according to the most recent statistics released by UNESCO, “women’s enrollment in graduate education in the United States has been greater than men’s for each of the last 30 years.” But every year, female students drop out of STEM graduate programs in large numbers and are denied tenure at high rates when they do complete their studies and move into faculty positions. Women are also poorly represented as senior STEM leaders. Jahren notes that women do not drop out of graduate programs because of performance—there is no difference in GPAs between women who drop out and those who stay in. And women are not denied tenure because of a failure to publish. So what is going on? Several new important studies reveal reasons why women struggle to be successful in the sciences and point the way to changes that will make it possible for them to succeed in the STEM professions.