Senior women researchers struggle for equality

November 10, 1999

"Death by a thousand pinpricks" is the situation facing many of the tenured women scientists at the nation's universities. Although the pitched battles for gender equality that marked campus politics in the past two decades have quieted to a certain extent, senior women researchers are speaking out against a subtle and less overt version of the glass ceiling. A special news focus in the 12 November issue of Science provides an exclusive look at the successes and struggles of these women professors at MIT and Harvard.

The number of women scientists continues to rise nationally, but the amount of women occupying academic top spots has lagged noticeably behind. The women that do manage the climb, like Nancy Hopkins, a tenured molecular biologist at MIT, often find themselves isolated and unhappy. Her fight to obtain more lab space crystallized into a "quiet revolution" in how MIT addresses gender discrimination in facilities, curriculum, and hiring practices.

Cynthia Friend, a tenured Harvard chemist, came face to face with similar frustrations--less administrative power, less respect from colleagues--after she became a senior faculty member. She is currently leading a group that is working to increase the number of women hires in the sciences at Harvard. The panel would like to see Harvard adopt an active recruitment strategy for women scientists, and to jump-start the promotions of many junior women faculty members.

The special news focus also contains a story on astronomer Margaret Geller's ongoing dispute with Harvard University after she was offered the prestigious Mallinckrodt chair at that university without accompanying tenure. The section also includes a short primer compiled by MIT scientists that contains advice for researchers wishing to boost the status of women scientists at their own universities.
Author: Andrew Lawler

Science issue 12 November 1999


American Association for the Advancement of Science

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