More Gender (In)Equity

Another day, another report on “gender inequities” in STEM fields. Early Academic Career Pathways in STEM: Do Gender and Family Status Matter? , just released by the American Institutes for Research, begins by summarizing the familiar litany of laments: not enough women on STEM faculties, and the few there “are more likely than men to be in lower academic ranks and work at less prestigious institutions” than men and receive an insufficient “level of recognition, career affirmation, and resources.”

Ho hum. This report, however, does contain one interesting finding: “Not only overall, but regardless of marital and parental status, significantly higher proportions of women than men had secured academic versus nonacademic positions upon earning their STEM PhDs.” 79% of women began their careers in academia, the Chronicle of Higher Education noted in its discussion of the new report, while only 67% of men did so.

The fact that a higher proportion of women than men with new STEM Ph.Ds are choosing academic careers, even if they are young mothers, ought to produce  some reconsideration of the vast flow of funds now devoted to analyzing and removing the various “barriers” that are thought to turn them away.

Typical of these programs is the National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE program, in which NSF has invested “over $130M,” whose goal “is to develop systemic approaches to increase the representation and advancement of women in academic STEM careers.” In addition to the ubiquitous “implicit and explicit bias,”one of the barriers — which the ADVANCE program refers to as “external factors” — to be overcome is the “differential effect of work and family demands” on women STEM academics. The new American Institutes for Research study, however, finds no such “differential effect” in choosing in choosing an academic career. Any disadvantage from being married and having children, it concludes, exists “for both men and women.” 

Or take another NSF program, Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate  (AGEP) , a program I discussed here a week or so ago that is devoted to encouraging “underrepresented minorities”(URMs) to prepare for and enter “academic STEM careers at all types of institutions of higher education,” in large part so that they can provide “role models” for other URMs to choose academic STEM careers.

If women STEM graduates are already choosing academic careers disproportionately more than men, is this plethora of gender-based proselytizing programs really necessary?

Someone should do a major study — and make no mistake: it would be a major project requiring extensive research — of just how much money the National Science Foundation, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and other government agencies and private institutions spend each year — not on producing more science, technology, engineering, and math but trying to socially engineer the STEM workforce. Add to that sum the amount spent on studies and reports pointing out the “inequities” that demand such spending and in not too many years the result would probably be enough to send a woman to the moon.

John S. Rosenberg

John Rosenberg blogs at Discriminations.

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