Women, science, and academia

You write that the cost of daycare "is dwarfed by the costs to innovation of not having half the world's population adequately represented among scientific faculty members, which is the clear result of a lack of daycare."

Karin Klein(kklein@nanosphere.us)
May 8, 2005

Re: "Women, Science, and Academia: A Three-Point Plan"1 You write that the cost of daycare "is dwarfed by the costs to innovation of not having half the world's population adequately represented among scientific faculty members, which is the clear result of a lack of daycare." This is an argument that must be made convincing not as a matter of belief, but as a matter of data and funds accrued.

The counterargument – stated quite clearly to me by a male colleague as I struggled through the last month of a difficult pregnancy and made plans to take a three-month leave of absence from my postdoc position to be with my newborn – is persuasive in a production-oriented profession such as the life sciences. Men can do the job better because they can be there, working, while women are busy with the biological necessities of bearing, and the societal necessities...

In Sweden the percentage of female professors is currently at 14%, not an inspiring number and increasing only at a rate of less than 1% per year. At the Karolinska Institutet, the number is 17%. Not satisfied with this performance, the Swedish government has decided that from 2005 to 2008, the target for new recruitment [of women] should be about 30%.

One year ago, a very interesting study2 by two well-established Swedish medical researchers found that men had been almost four times more likely than women to progress to full professors in all traditional university subjects investigated.

Certainly, as your article suggested, good and affordable childcare is necessary for reducing the inequality.

We should consider other tools for reducing inequality as well:

• Withdrawal of governmental funding to universities that are not actively pursuing equality plans. Money talks.

• Education of existing professors and board members at all universities about the need for equality considerations.

• Research funding specifically directed to female principal investigators to stimulate them in their early career advancement.

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