Product Reviews from a Scientific Perspective

Monday, February 14, 2011

Choices, and not Discrimination, results in Gender Gap in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Fields

A study by Cornell sociologists seems to indicate that the lack of women in the sciences and engineering fields is due not so much as from discrimination, but rather from individual choices to be drawn to certain careers and not others, reports Science Daily in their article "Choices - Not Discrimination - Determine
Success for Women Scientists, Experts Argue." According to the article, the researchers claim that

It's not discrimination in these areas, but rather differences in resources attributable to career and family-related choices that set women back in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields...The researchers analyzed the scientific literature in which women and men competed for publications, grants or jobs in these fields. They found no systematic evidence of sex discrimination in interviewing, hiring, reviewing or funding when men and women with similar resources -- such as teaching loads and research support -- were compared.

The article continues on to address two potential sources of the difference between men and women in these fields.

One, some of these career tracks are unfriendly for women who want to spend more time at home and with family. Tenure tracks are unfriendly for women prioritizing raising children, for example.

Two, women tend to gravitate toward areas that more directly concern life (humans, animals, plants) rather than more "inorganic" areas (computer programs, machines, etc.) for many reasons. 

Assuming that this is true, this obviously raises a few questions. One of them might ask whether we should encourage more women into these areas.

I myself have never been a proponent of making these equal for the sake of homogeneity. Of course, if a woman is being discriminated against by virtue of her sex, this is an injustice that needs to be corrected. But if women in general feel more drawn to a different area in the first place, I find no reason to artificially reverse these trends, if there is no benefit to the family, society, or even individual. 

Millions of dollars are spent on trying to make academic and career interests more homogeneous between the two genders. Personally, I believe that this is unnecessary, and therefore wasteful considering that these same dollars could be spent on more urgent matters.

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