interesting article from Boston Globe

Sabine Dippel S.Dippel at
Tue Mar 23 11:48:39 EST 1999

Hi there,

I got this through a women-in-physics mailing list, and thought this 
should be very interesting to this newsgroup. 



Gesendet am:    Montag, 22. Marz 1999 18:42
An:     clim_mod at ULV.EDU
Betreff:        Progress at MIT

>>From Boston Globe
> 3/21/99
>MIT women win a fight against bias
>In rare move, school admits discrimination
>By Kate Zernike, Globe Staff, 03/21/99
>AMBRIDGE - The women professors at the Massachusetts Institute of
>Technology presumed that their numbers were low for the reason everyone
>had accepted as fact: Girls just don't like science.
>Then they took out their tape measures.
>Sneaking around the nation's most prestigious institute of science in
>1994, 15 women went office to office comparing how much space MIT
>awarded women with what men of equal status got. It was less by about half.
>Salaries were less, too. As was the research money given to women. And
>the numbers of women on committees that made decisions about hiring and
>There were no women department heads and never had been. And while MIT
>lavished raises on men who got job offers elsewhere, it simply let the
>women leave. They might have been expected to leave, anyway, since MIT
>had made most of them so miserable.
>Like most universities facing complaints of bias, MIT at first resisted
>the women's charges of inequity, resisted even giving them data they
>asked for.
>But unlike schools that have waited for lawsuits to act, MIT did
>something rare in academia: The institute looked at the numbers and
>admitted it was wrong.
>And in a report that will be presented to the faculty later this month,
>MIT's top administrators, all white men, will admit they have
>discriminated against women for years, in ways that are subtle and
>unintentional but very real.
>MIT has done more. In the four years since the women faculty first
>suggested there was bias, the institute has raised women's salaries an
>average of 20 percent, to equal men's; increased research money and
>space for women; awarded them key committee seats; and increased the
>pensions of a handful of retired women to what they would have been paid
>if the salary inequities had not existed.
>It's all because three unhappy women professors happened to compare
>notes one day.
>The story of how these women got MIT to recognize and acknowledge bias
>offers a portrait of how discrimination works, often so subtly that many
>women themselves don't believe it exists.
>''I have always believed that contemporary gender discrimination within
>universities is part reality and part perception,'' MIT president
>Charles M. Vest wrote in a letter prefacing the report. ''True, but I
>now understand that reality is by far the greater part of the balance.''
>National numbers were bad, too
Sender: owner-clim-fys at
Precedence: bulk
Reply-To: clim-fys at

>It might have been easy in 1995 to dismiss the numbers as a reflection
>of the national picture. A full academic generation into the women's
>movement, only 26 percent of tenured faculty nationwide were women,
>compared with 18 percent in 1975. It's not that women aren't entering
>academia; in 1995, 43 percent of faculty in tenure-track positions
>nationwide were women, according to the American Association of
>University Professors. The problem has been especially pronounced at
>elite universities.
>Because the numbers were so small, a woman who suspected discrimination
>might as easily conclude that she was the victim of circumstances
>particular to her case.
>That began to change in 1994, when MIT told Nancy Hopkins, a prominent
>DNA researcher, that it would discontinue a course she had designed that
>was now required for 1,000 students a year.
>She had worked for five years to develop the course; in the previous two
>years, a male professor had joined her in teaching it. The man, MIT
>informed her, was going to turn the course into a book and a CD-ROM -
>without her.
>Hopkins drafted a letter to Vest about how she felt women researchers
>were treated, which she described as her ''enough is enough'' letter.
>When Hopkins discussed it with a woman colleague, she asked to sign it,
>too. They got to talking about their situations, and eventually the
>discussion expanded to a third tenured woman on the faculty.
>They decided to poll every tenured woman in the School of Science - one
>of five at MIT - to see whether what they had experienced were
>individual problems or part of a pattern.
>They were surprised to find out how fast they got their answers. Within
>a day, they had talked to all 15 tenured women (there were 197 tenured
>men) and agreed that there was a problem and that something had to be done.
>True to their fields, they looked first at the data.
>The proportion of tenured women on the faculty had not moved beyond 8
>percent for two decades. There was little hope for change: Only 7 women
>were on the tenure track, compared to 55 men.
>Plenty of women were entering science in the first place. In half the
>six departments in the school of science, there were more women
>undergraduates than men.
>Was child rearing part of the problem? Certainly, childbearing years
>coincide with the years when most women get tenure. And, true, of the
>women with tenure, half had children, which is statistically low.
>But that was a minor part of the story. The main part was resources.
>Much of the problem had to do with the way MIT paid salaries, requiring
>professors to raise a portion of their salaries from outside grants. And
>women were required to raise twice as much in grants as men.
>Getting the information the women needed was not without struggle. When
>they asked for information on space awarded to women, MIT insisted they
>got the same space as men. But when the group checked the numbers, the
>women realized that was only because the institute had counted office
>and lab space for women, but only office space for men.

>Individually, some women said they had sensed discrimination but feared
>that they would be dismissed as troublemakers or that their work would
>suffer from the distraction of trying to prove their point.
>''These women had devoted their lives to science,'' Hopkins said.
>''There was a feeling that if you got into it, you weren't going to
>last; you'd get too angry.''
>But the hurdles in getting research money, space, or support were
>already costing them time.
>''It takes 50 percent of your time and 90 percent of your psychic
>energy,'' Hopkins said. ''Time is everything in science. Six months can
>cost you the Nobel Prize.''
>Complaints won a `total convert'
>Within a few months, the women presented a report to Robert Birgineau,
>dean of the School of Science.
>''The unequal treatment of women who come to MIT makes it more difficult
>for them to succeed, causes them to be accorded less recognition when
>they do, and contributes so substantially to a poor quality of life that
>these women can actually become negative role models for younger
>women,'' the women wrote.
>In short, they said, they were so miserable that any young woman looking
>up at them would think, ''Why would I want that?''
>All 15 women crowded into his office to present the report.
>''There are many unhappy faculty at a university, so for each one, you
>might be able to rationalize why that person might be unhappy,''
>Birgineau said last week. ''But meeting this whole group of women
>together, it was very much the whole was more than the sum of the parts.
>You could not rationalize their situations as based on the
>idiosyncrasies of individuals. It took this set of women coming together
>and speaking in one voice to see what the issues were.''
>Birgineau, Hopkins said, ''became a total convert.''
>He did his own quick investigation to see if the numbers were correct.
>(They were.) And he made quick remediation. Immediately, he boosted
>women's salaries an average of 20 percent and eliminated the requirement
>that women raise part of their salaries from grants; MIT is moving to
>eliminate the system for men, as well. He began aggressively recruiting
>more women faculty.
>He also moved to set up a committee that would investigate gender
>inequities further, as the women faculty had requested. While the women
>had anecdotal evidence of similar bias in the four other schools at MIT,
>they and the dean decided, to save time, to limit the investigation to
>the School of Science.
>But merely setting up the committee took six months, as Birgineau
>struggled to persuade department heads that a problem existed. The
>department heads suggested that the women simply didn't do as well in
>the masculine, competitive culture of MIT.
>Finally, with a push from Vest, the department heads agreed to
>participate. The committee consisted of a woman from each of the six
>departments in science - except for math, because there were no women
>math professors - and three department heads.
>One woman told the committee how her department head had withheld the
>fact that she had children when her name came up for tenure; it would be

>a strike against her, he told the woman.
>Another told how she told her male supervisor she wanted to run a larger
>lab. ''Do you think you can?'' he asked.
>The report, stripped of the most damning stories about individuals, was
>released to faculty members on the institute's Web page this week and
>will soon be released in a faculty newsletter. It acknowledges that
>there is evidence of ''subtle differences in the treatment of men and
>women,'' ''exclusion,'' and, in some cases, ''discrimination against
>women faculty.''
>The inequities, the report said, extended to salaries, space, research,
>and inclusion of women in positions of power. An underrepresentation of
>women making key decisions had bred male ''cronyism'' that for women
>meant ''unequal access to the substantial resources of MIT.'' While
>junior women faculty were generally supported, their supervisors began
>to marginalize them as they advanced.
>''It's not as if this was an institution that didn't want women,'' said
>Molly Potter, a cognitive scientist. ''There's acceptance of them in
>''But when it came to decisions about who gets what, who succeeds, who
>gets the creamy appointments, who gets the awards that can be
>distributed by recommendation or the will of the department head, it's
>the buddy system,'' Potter said. ''The men were the buddies of the men.''
>The report dismisses the argument that women didn't succeed because they
>weren't good enough. ''The opposite was undeniably true,'' it says,
>noting that 40 percent of the 15 women have been named members of the
>National Academy of Sciences or the Academy of Arts and Sciences.
>It wasn't just men who raised talent as an explanation for women's
>failure to thrive; some women had secretly worried it might be true
>about themselves. And that was precisely what made it so hard for them
>to speak up for so many years.
>''It's very tough, because the whole debate about affirmative action
>we're having in this country is based on the fact that along with
>affirmative action comes the feeling on the part of the recipient that
>`maybe I only got here because I am a woman or a black or something,'''
>said Lotte Bailyn, the dean of the MIT faculty and a professor at the
>Sloan School of Management who studies barriers to women and minorities
>in the workplace. ''It's clearly not true here, as I think in most
>places, but many women don't want to get caught in the possibility that
>they or other people might think so.''
>A decade's progress in one year
>MIT has responded, as one woman said, with ''more progress in one year
>than was accomplished in the previous decade.''
>In addition to salary, space, and resource increases, Birgineau said he
>expects to have a 40 percent increase in the number of women with tenure
>next year, bringing the percentage to above 10 for the first time. The
>institute corrected some pensions, one by $130,000, the other by $80,000.
>MIT is also looking at ways to allow women to incorporate child raising
>into scientific careers, with, for instance, a provision allowing them
>to stop teaching and then get back on the tenure track without penalty.

>Significantly, Birgineau said, five of the six women expected to get
>tenure this year have children.
>The report urges the establishment of committees in the four other
>schools at MIT and a similar effort to consider why minorities have not
>made progress in science.
>A cynic could argue that the institute addressed the problems only
>because it realized it might soon be looking at a lawsuit. The federal
>government last month filed suit against Stanford, for instance, for not
>doing enough to aid the progress of women.
>But among the women, any cynicism yields to gratitude.
>''I was unhappy at MIT for more than a decade,'' one woman told the
>committee. ''I thought it was the price you paid if you wanted to be a
>scientist at an elite academic institution.
>''After ... the dean responded, my life began to change,'' she said.
>''My research blossomed; my funding tripled. Now I love every aspect of
>my job. It is hard to understand how I survived - or why.''
>This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 03/21/99. ? Copyright
>1999 Globe Newspaper Company.

More information about the Womenbio mailing list