Advocacy and Public Policy Newsletter ~ March 2011 ~ Women's History Month
Office of Civil Rights Makes Title IX a Public Priority
Since AWIS was founded 40 years ago, gender discrimination has been at the top of the organization’s priorities. Our early members were instrumental in getting Title IX passed into law, prohibiting all existing forms of discrimination on the basis of sex. But, over the last four decades, the United States government has been slow to enforce this law as it relates to education and in particular, those fields in which women have traditionally been – and still are – underrepresented. Most have heard about juicy Title IX cases relating to athletics in schools, where all-male football teams have been forced to accept a woman onto their roster, and cheerleaders who have been classified as Varsity athletes. But the tales of inequityfor women in academia, including students, professors and administrators who face harsh treatment, unequal access to education, and unfair policies that disadvantage them professionally often remain untold. Not only is this a more difficult topic to cover because the evidence is mostly anecdotal and data on the subject are weak and disparate, but also many victims of gender discrimination in academia remain silent for fear of retaliation and stigmatization in their fields of study and faculty departments.
Although there should be at least one Title IX coordinator in each institution who is responsible for seeking out and reporting incidents of Title IX violation, there sometimes isn’t one; and often the coordinator is unaware of his/her responsibilities in this role. (Do you know the Title IX coordinator at your institution?) Even in schools where the Title IX coordinator is active and engaged, there is such wide application of the law that it is often overwhelming and simply too much work for one person to execute well. The burden on a single Title IX coordinator, low incidence of reporting and the intricacies of the problem in academia, paired with a lack of political incentives have left Title IX as it relates to STEM education largely untouched by federal investigations. This is why AWIS has made Title IX compliance reviews such a priority in our advocacy efforts, and commend NASA for its uniquely exceptional performance in this regard. (See the NASA report on Title IX and STEM)
Moreover, it has been extremely difficult to obtain information about Title IX compliance. Until this month, one had to file a request via the Freedom of Information Act. This process often took months to receive a reply, the information provided was often incomplete, and all that is about to change. The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) announced on the first day of Women’s History Month that it will now post agreements with school districts resulting from complaints and compliance reviews on its website, for greater public access. Although Title IX compliance reviews will not be widely publicized and many of the investigations are protected under privacy laws, this is the first step toward the transparency in academia that we have been seeking since the 1970’s.
Under the current administration, Title IX is gaining recognition as an issue of access and equal rights in STEM education. And with Presidential initiatives such as “Race to the Top,” more and more organizations are shifting their focus toward STEM. At AWIS National, we are proud to have been the early pioneers in this field.
To show our gratitude for the Department of Education and this advancement in transparency and accountability, we sent a letter to the Assistant Secretary, Russlynn Ali, and joined her along with White House and OCR officials at the Department of Education to discuss Title IX and STEM in Higher Education. We will continue to work with United States government officials and other advocacy organizations, keeping the pressure on institutions to enforce compliance with Title IX as it relates to STEM. We want to thank Russlynn Ali once again, for her championing efforts on Title IX…and of course to all of the AWIS members who have been fighting for this type of change for decades.
AWIS President Moderates a Panel with Top United States Officials on International Women's Day
On the morning of March 8th in Washington, D.C. it was dusk in Indonesia as students, professors, women’s rights activists, and women scientists gathered in Jakarta for an event to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day. At the Department of State in our nation’s capital, local AWIS members from the tri-state area met women from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the State Department in a small waiting area, anticipating the arrival of EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Assistant Secretary for Oceans, Environment, and Science Kerri-Ann Jones. The two groups on opposite sides of the globe were united online via live webcast, with panel speakers in both Washington and Jakarta, moderated by AWIS President Dr. Joan Herbers.
Keynote speaker Lisa Jackson shared her perspective as a top United States official and scientist at EPA, emphasizing how important women’s contributions are to STEM, not only as role models but also as innovators and leaders in the disciplines. Assistant Secretary Kerri-Ann Jones echoed this message, stating about the event, “from the State Department perspective, it brings together the importance of women in foreign policy and in science and technology… [which] we look to for solving challenging international problems…and we really need to have women and girls engaged fully in this, because it is important to them and it’s important our countries.” Indeed, having women fully engaged in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics is important to both the United States and to Indonesia, and AWIS National was honored to participate in such a fitting event for International Women’s Day.
The most enlightening aspect of this event was just how similar problems are for women scientists across the globe. While I admittedly expected the panelists from Indonesia to site shortages of electricity and resources for their labs, I was surprised to hear that they grapple with the same issues as women scientists in America. Work-life satisfaction, balancing family and home responsibilities with education and career demands; receiving lower salaries and benefits than their male colleagues; and not being adequately recognized for their scholarly contributions. This conformity of barriers for women scientists across cultures and continents was both unforeseen and yet quite unsurprising. It says something about the universality of gender bias that pervades the culture of scientific research, and the inherent challenges women face as they enter into traditionally male-dominated fields while remaining culturally obligated to care for families and manage a household.
When asked how to deal with these universal problems, Administrator Jackson and Dr. Jones essentially said, “You can do it all!” Which may be true, given the right support system and an accommodating spouse, but AWIS recognizes that this is not only unfair – it is unsustainable. We are advocating daily for changes in legislation and institutional policies that will compensate women equally, with comparable salaries and benefits, paid care-giving leave and scholarly awards for excellence in STEM fields. It was heartening to hear high-level members of the US government echo our concerns and stage a commitment to our institutional goals.
AWIS National participated in several other events on International Women’s Day, focused on policy initiatives to further these objectives, and you can read about them on the AWIS National Blog, or by checking out our guest blog post on International Women’s Day at Research!America’s New Voices for Research Blog.
Women's History Month at AWIS National
This year, Women’s History Month has been especially relevant to AWIS members, due to the tremendous number of initiatives, events and reports about women in STEM. To start it off, the White House released the most comprehensive report on women in America since JFK established the Commission on the Status of Women in 1963, pulling together data from across the federal agencies on topics including women's educational attainment, employment, and earnings. One relevant aspect of this report is the section on education, which represents graphically the number of Bachelor’s degrees by field of study in roughly the last decade.
Although we have seen a major boom in the number of women receiving degrees overall, particularly in business and management, social and behavioral sciences, and humanities, it is clear that this progressive trend is not reflected in mathematics and physical sciences, nor in engineering and computer sciences.
This report set the tone for the month of March, highlighting the Administration’s commitment to women on issues such as fair pay and equal opportunity in education, particularly in math and science. Additionally, President Obama released a statement calling for more comprehensive data collection as it relates to women. This is perhaps one of the administration’s most relevant calls to action for women in science, so we can analyze the data and gain a more rigorous perspective on what is actually going on in STEM faculty departments.
In fact, standardized data collection on demographics in STEM faculty departments is one of the initiatives proposed in Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson’s bill, “Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering,” (H.R. 889) for which AWIS helped rally support on Capitol Hill. In addition to Congress, which hosted a multitude of women in STEM events this month, the federal agencies are on the women in STEM wavelength. NSF came out with a report "Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2011" and the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on “Women at Work” paying particular attention to the fields in which women are most successful. For a complete list of our recently collected reports and advocacy activities, visit the AWIS Advocacy and Public Policy Archive for 2011.
M3 The Maddening Monthly Mention
* Online Attack on Women in Science *
Last month, the Executive Director of AWIS, Janet Bandows Koster, joined 59 other women leaders in a virtual conference hosted by The Future We Create, entitled “The Future of Women in Chemistry and Science.” The event was a great success, fueling online discussions from around the globe on this important topic and women expressing gratitude for bringing light to the issues most affecting their lives and careers. However, in the weeks that ensued, a flurry of attacks on the ideology behind the event appeared on the website’s comment feed…unveiling an anti-feminist sentiment so strong it was outrageous!
Below is a just a mild taste of the comments posted. All spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors are those of the original authors. Whether that is a reflection of their intellectual reasoning abilities, is not for this author to judge.
“Stop all this sexism against men. We want the best person for the job ever single time. Recommending lesser women above better men is despicable.”
“Passion alone does not advance technology. Skill does. And men have it more often than women."
“I am a man. That means I EARNED my spot without any additional help. There were no organizations helping me. There was no favoritism for me. There are no groups at work specifically for me. THAT IS SEXISM."
“i think women are doing fine in science! of course they are still a bit behind because men and women have not had equal rights for a long time yet, but i am positive that these differences will start to equalize! so my guestion: is active change needed? or will the rise of women in science continue to satisfaction?”
As a subscriber to this newsletter, you are probably already familiar with this species of commentary. But have you investigated deeply into its origins, questioned the motivation behind it? Soon after the attack, it was discovered that a certain website which actively promotes the interests and views of men was encouraging people to make “pro-male comments” on this event page, in exchange for donations to a local men’s radio station. As misguided and ignorant as many of the comments were, the language used to describe women on this website is even more appalling. Among the preferred terms for women are “sex bots” “whiners” and “feminazis” while men who sympathize with feminism are scorned as “manjinas.”
Offended and thoroughly disgusted, I read on through the comments in search of some semblance of a decent argument. To my disappointment (yes, I really wanted to find an argument I could work with!) there were none. The prevailing sentiment is that feminists simply want to replace men in positions of power, get there without earning it, and must be confused in thinking they have any rightful place outside the home, raising children and preparing meals for their breadwinner husbands. This exposure is probably old-hat for experienced feminists, but such blatant anti-women activism was a shock for my green Millennial self, and inspired an investigation into the motivation behind it. A quick read through the psychology literature illuminated the fact that aggressors are often motivated to lash out when they feel their sense of self is being threatened – essentially, fear.
This theory is consistent with a conversation I had recently with a senior male faculty member who shared his perspective on the challenges for women in science. In his view, there is actually “no deep-rooted stereotype that men are smarter than women.” He explained that both men and women have unconscious biases that prefer men for faculty positions in academia because men are perceived as more authoritative and entrepreneurial (a quality that is favored in academia, out of necessity to obtain research grants). But this is not the end of the story. “In fact,” he said, “even if women's CVs show them being especially proactive - that will not necessarily endear them to men because of another subconscious problem: fear of blows to ego by men outcompeted by women. So it's heads men win, and tails women lose (fortunately not always).”
As refreshing as it is to hear male academicians speak about the delusions of their fearful colleagues…I wonder if it will actually encourage others to change, or if we’re all just preaching to the choir. Okay just one more! (From the Future We Create website):
Kevindreed: “Men's comments about sexism don't reflect the confident man's view. We need more women in science, period. When did men become so gutless and weak? Let's just get back to the topic at hand...The Future of Women in Chem and Science...”