why women leave the pipeline?

Karen Kustedjo kujo at cco.caltech.edu
Fri Jan 3 17:20:32 EST 1997

a-schmi at uiuc.edu (aloisia schmid) writes:

>Well, first of all, I don't think ANYONE in this discussion has been
>saying we want a new superwoman paradigm.  And certainly no one that I
>have seen has said anything that would suggest they are looking down their
>noses at anyone who makes any kind of lifestyle choice in science or
>elsewhere.  I think we have really all agreed that these are hard
>decisions, and that maybe we don't like the system that makes these
>choices unnecessarily difficult.  

OK, I was not implying anyone in particular was advocating this route.
However, there seems to be a trend behind all of the angst suffered
and expressed here -- and that is the pain of realizing one person
can't do it all *perfectly*.  In the past, the creation of 
defined social roles helped steamline some of the choices faced by
youth who didn't find a clear-cut calling in life.
The difference now is not only a matter of informing young women
that they have a choice in life, but also making them aware that
there is a cost no matter what they choose.  In general, the people
with the most successful careers have them because that was the 
overriding goal in their lives.  If something else came up that might
have possibly distracted them (family responsibilities, social
expectations), they ignored it and kept going.  Now perhaps there
are more women than men who do not feel comfortable making that 
choice.  Then it will remain true that there will continue being
fewer women with high-powered careers.  But what is truly important
in the long run?  Some women may feel that it is their responsiblity
to maintain the family unit, not only as their contribution to society,
but also as a personally satisfying thing.  Some other women may feel
that they can best contribute to society by proving the old boys'
network wrong, and having a successful career, and to use their 
influence to help other women with potential up the career ladder
(anyone here ever read Marion Zimmer Bradley's comments about being
one of the first women science fiction authors?)

Then there are women who try to avoid such a painful choice, and try
to do it all.  A few lucky ones succeed, but many more discover the
truth of the saying, "jack of all trades, master of none."

My main point is this:  We have a system here that selects for 
people who have chosen to be part of it at any cost.  I don't think
that men are spared this; they don't spend that much time with their
families.  So far, this system has produced a lot of innovative science,
and in terms of this goal, has been quite successful.  How can we
change the system without losing sight of this goal?  

>> So what did you all expect when starting graduate school?  What did you
>> write as your statement of purpose?  How much of the current difficulty
>> in getting jobs a matter of discrimination?  My understanding is that
>> we are producing PhD's at a phenomenal rate, all of whom expect that 
>> after all that hard work, we should be assured of a tenure-track position.
>> In other words, how much of women not being in positions of power a matter
>> of thousands of individual choices to not "play the game", versus a matter
>> of the game shutting them out?

>I am not really sure which position you are taking here---or if you are
>just posing questions, but I think these questions ARE what we have all
>been discussing.  That there IS some discrimination, that there IS a boy's
>netwrok that is difficult for women (and minorities) to crack.  And that
>we were discussing the fundamental changes we see as necessarily occurring
>to change the status quo.

I am just asking all these questions as an addendum. I am also cynical
enough these days of all human endeavors to believe that hard work and
original thought only get you so far, in terms of your career; much
more that counts, in a practical way, is *who you know*.  An excellent
book is "Getting What You Came For", which is an advice book written
for undergraduates interested in graduate school.  A big piece of 
advice:  network, network, network.  I think part of the reason I 
was told, "pedigree matters" is because if you come from a prestigious
school, you already command a higher level of attention than average.
Then if you work for an big-name advisor, whose favor everyone is 
likely to curry (since everyone wants to be associated with success!)
you stay "in the loop", provided you are on the advisor's good side.
I've heard of situations where corporations that outwardly claim a 
"hiring freeze" will call up one of their academic consultants at
BigName U. and say, "Hi, John, We'd like hire students from your 
group.  Give us a list of names for an interview."  It works this 
way because being Dr. Smith's grad student at BigName U. gives you
instant credibility, which gets you your foot in the door, creating
a good first impression, etc.  And the corporations know Dr. John
Smith and his work, and trust his judgement.     

I agree that there is no job security for anyone these days.  Perhaps
the most important trait in a successful career now is flexibility,
and who you know that's willing to help you.  I certainly didn't
get job offers by scanning the classified ads in the paper, but
through my advisors and friends who were working.  

>> As an aside, my freshman year I attended a premedical conference ostensibly
>> targeted at underrepresented minorities, to try to get more of them to 
>> attend medical school.  Apparently the person who organized it didn't 
>> realize that they were targeting *black* people. 

>Are Asian students considered under-represented minorities?  I have no
>opinion one way or the other, but if I were a minority student, I would
>expect such a conference to be composed of Hispanic and Black students,
>who seem to be present in graduate and professional schools at percentages
>far below the fraction of the population their ethnic groups comprise. 
>But I was under the impression that Asian students do not suffer from this
>same under-representation. Is that wrong? 

My reason for singling out black in my ancedote was because that was 
the only minority this particular conference was interested in 
addressing.  I also find it interesting to observe how Asians are not
considered a disadvantaged minority, but others are.  Was it a 
difference in general attitude towards discrimination, or was it a
difference of opportunity?  I don't see much evidence to indicate 
that Asians had it particularly easier than Hispanics or Blacks.  Nor
am I assigning any blame.  I just note that for many Asians, there is
the attitude that advancing one's education is *the* most important
goal for the young, and thus it is not surprising to see so many Asians
pursuing "intellectual" fields, as opposed to attempting to become the
next football star.  Is that the crucial difference?  If so, how can
we make others realize how important that goal is? 
Many Asian societies are also patriarchal, but I don't see a particular
lack fo Asian women in the sciences (compared to Caucasian women).

>> Sarah Boomer <sarai at u.washington.edu> writes:
>> >So - here is a question that has been nagging me for a while.  Who out
>> >there has good stat's or opinons about what drives more women out of the
>> >"academic pipeline?"  A few years ago, I read that it was not family but
>> >just frustration and lack of interest with playing the game.  After all
>> >the discussions of sports analogies, baking, a different potential
>> >approaches men and women may take to careers in academics, I would really
>> >be curious to hear from people on this one... 
>> >Many people I know assume it is having families but I personally know more
>> >women who have left because they absolutely cannot find a niche (or job)
>> >in the system!  Drop me a line or post!
>> >Sarah

>          Anyway, that's my two cents worth.  Back to work....

>                                 alice

Karen Kustedjo kujo at cco.caltech.edu

"The folly of mistaking a paradox for a discovery, a metaphor for a

More information about the Womenbio mailing list