August 15 2008
Carrie L. Lukas
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Women have made tremendous progress in academia, but they remain a minority of faculty, particularly in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) departments.
Yet it is unlikely that institutional discrimination is the primary cause of the discrepancy between the number of men and women in STEM faculties. Research suggests that women's greater challenge in balancing work pressures (particularly related to the tenure process) with their desire to have and raise children, as well as individual interests, play central roles in generating this outcome.
Additionally, some of the measures advocated by those who want more "balance" in STEM faculties could have adverse, unintended consequences, including undermining the position of women within faculties and creating reverse sexism; as hiring policies blatantly favor women over their male peers. Some have suggested that the government should use Title IX as a mechanism to increase female representation in STEM faculties, just as Title IX has been used to increase the portion of women among college athletes, including the active elimination of men's athletic opportunities in the name of "proportionality." It also fails to appreciate the real barriers to changing the makeup of faculties without explicit discrimination against men.
College and universities should consider if current policies are conducive to attracting the best women and men to engage in important research and teach the next generation. They should work to create a supportive environment that encourages both women and men to fulfill their potential and, to the extent possible, provide flexibility so that those who also have family or other responsibilities can continue to contribute to the important work of the institution. However, in doing so, their goal should be to generate the best, most productive academic departments, not to achieve a politically correct gender balance.