A Career in Science: Equality for Women? Not really!

Why is it that the many accomplishments women have achieved in the sciences receive little or no recognition and women who have received the Nobel Prize in the field of science are rare? We recognize the name of Madame Marie Curie who was awarded a Nobel Prize for physics, but a majority of women scientists who have made significant discoveries are not household names. A new study recently released by Yale University is not only shocking, but also terribly disheartening. As recently reported in the New York Times, “Science professors at American universities widely regard female undergraduates as less competent than male students with the same accomplishments and skills.” To add insult to injury, the study demonstrated that female professors were just as biased against female students as the male professors. Reading the article ignited the frustration I felt when writing my coauthored  book Women Trailblazers of California: Pioneers to the Present. Most of the women in the book battled against discrimination and dared to take risks so the following generations would not have to repeat the struggles. The fight is not yet over, especially in the field of science. The study as outlined, demonstrates that absolute gender disparity is alive and well in academic science. Male students more easily get mentors and are offered jobs more often than women are. When the female students are lucky to find employment, it is at a lower pay scale. Dr. Jo Handelsman, senior author of the article that reported the findings, noted the strong results of the study were surprising as were their enormous importance. There are things we can do to change the perception of women in science. The National Women’s History Project has just announced next year’s theme, “Women Inspiring Innovation through Imagination.” They are going to celebrate women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math and promote the theme in the 2013 Gazette that will focus on the role and contributions of women in the rich variety of fields related to science. As noted in the announcement, “readers will learn about women who were first in their fields, women who have won worldwide recognition (including Nobel Prizes), and women who have made important contributions that have yet to receive the recognition they deserve.” For more information on this project, click here. We must all do our part in encouraging young women who are interested in science and technology to follow their dreams. If we do not challenge discrimination, we cannot break down barriers, and women will continue to fall behind in leading new discoveries to enhance the health and safety of all of us. Let me know what you think. Hannah