NAS issues report on gender bias

Inter-institution cooperation is needed to improve the climate for women in academic science, the report states

By | September 18, 2006

Higher education organizations should look into creating an inter-institution monitoring organization to help eliminate gender bias in the academic sciences, a report released today by The National Academy of Sciences recommends. The recommendation is one of a number in the report made by the Committee on Maximizing the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering, whose 18 members include Chair Donna Shalala, president of the University of Miami; Catherine D. Deangelis, editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Medical Association; and Robert J. Birgeneau, chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley. Called "Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering," the new report lays out steps the Committee believes need to be taken by universities, scientific and professional societies, funding agencies, federal agencies and Congress. Increasing the presence of female scientists in academia is key to American competitiveness, the report stresses. "It's a moral imperative and an economic imperative," Shalala, who served as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Clinton, told The Scientist. As global competition in science and engineering rises, the U.S. can't afford to waste any of its brain power, she said. An inter-institution monitoring group "could act as an intermediary between academic institutions and federal agencies in recommending norms and measures, in collecting data, and in cross-institution tracking of compliance and accountability," the report states. The report calls on the American Council on Education to bring together groups such as the Association of American Universities and the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges to begin discussing the creation of the monitoring organization. Initial talks should focus on "defining the scope and structure of data collection," the Committee suggests, noting that it has created a scorecard that could be used in the data-collection process. The Committee also urges university trustees, presidents and provosts to "develop and implement hiring, tenure and promotion policies that take into account the flexibility that faculty need across the life course, allowing integration of family, work and community responsibilities." Programs should include paid parental leave, on-site child care and child-care subsidies, dissertation defense and tenure-clock extensions, and meeting schedules that take family responsibilities into account, the group said. Deans and department chairs should also take a number of steps, including integrating education about unexamined bias and effective evaluation into departmental meetings, retreats, professional development activities and teacher-training programs, the report states. "Numerous studies show things done by men are evaluated more positively," Ana Mari Cauce, a committee member and psychology professor at the University of Washington, told The Scientist. Funding agencies also bear some of the burden of bringing about change, the report says. It advises all research funding agencies to implement measures including allowing the use of grant money for dependant-care expenses and extending grant support for researchers in the event that their caregiving responsibilities force them to take a leave of absence. Donna Dean, president of the Association for Women in Science, who was not involved in the Committee's report, told The Scientist that if funding agencies leveraged their dollars and required institutions to provide a plan for improving gender parity, it could go a long way toward improving the situation for women in science. And, Dean adds, change is due. "I think it has definitely improved in my lifetime...[but] I would have thought things would have changed far more. I don't think it's improving as fast as it should." Kerry Grens Links within this article: "Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering" The National Academy of Sciences Donna Shalala,1770,8548-1;8823-3,00.html American Council on Education Ana Mari Cauce Association for Women in Science K. Fodor, "Women on the Rise," The Scientist, November 7, 2005.

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