Via Joanne Jacobs, a review of a new book on women in math and science careers:
Some of the essayists, like Spelke and Ellison, argue that research shows that men and women have the same intrinsic cognitive abilities and motivation for math and science careers. They say there's also no evidence that market forces are going to correct those imbalances, as some suggest, so higher education institutions would have to act for change to occur. The evidence shows that gender stereotypes are having an impact on leading women away from math and science fields, the authors explain.
But others, like authors Jerre Levy and Doreen Kimura, have a different take. They argue that the "fundamental claim" of the Academies report that men outnumber women in certain math and science fields because of social barriers against females has "no scientific foundation." They say research has shown a connection between genetic and hormonal differences between males and females, which affect behavior and choice of occupation. They write:"Although the magnitude of average sex differences in certain cognitive abilities has declined in the last forty years, none of these differences has disappeared or is likely to disappear. However, even if there were no cognitive sex differences in average mathematical or spatial ability, there would still be more males than females at the upper end of intellectual talent due to greater male variance. In consequence, there would still be more males than females who meet even minimum standards to be academic engineers, physical scientists, or mathematicians, and many more men than women with exceptionally high levels of talent."
Here's my bottom line: is there injustice being perpetrated against individual, identifiable people? If so, let's fix those injustices.
If you cannot point to some injustice, at this point I just don't care. Does it really matter if women just prefer to do something else, or if women aren't hanging out in that right tail? It's not like there's a peculiar "women's math" that is going undiscovered [and the people who posit such a thing will have to ponder their own thoughts of gender essentialism]
Here's one thing to consider, that I do take seriously: the academic career not being conducive to "having a life" - whether having kids or just doing something else beyond grinding away at research [and not being well-recompensed for this either... come on to the dark corporate side, my pretties]. The tenure process fritters away a woman's fertile years. Men aren't as badly hit by this; after all, they can date and marry one of their grad students later on [funny how often that happens]. Tenure also erects a barrier to new entrants as the old fart Boomers aren't moving on as they have nothing better to do than take up a faculty chair [yes, some are still doing productive work, but once tenure is achieved and reputation has been made decades ago.... well, where's the pressure to produce?]
So the academic profession needs to look if tenure really makes sense, and if tenure does continue to make sense, if the process of awarding tenure makes sense. They need to look at how important the devotion to research is. And how much teaching is to be valued. And if it makes sense to try to attract older people to the profession [it might not hurt to get people who have actually worked jobs out in the "real world"... I think the disconnect between academia and industry is getting worse in many fields, and this may be hurting both parties.] The way these things balance currently are going to value certain activities and certain people more than others; it may just happen that the way things are currently weighted will hit different demographic groups differently.
If after careful reflection they decide the current system is just peachy keen, I recommend they quit whining about the whole "women in quantitative fields in academia" issue inasmuch women are deciding the hassle isn't worth it. These "well-meaning" people are not necessarily doing the women any favors; it seems more like a scam to scare up more dates for grad student advisors.
If they see that certain things need reform, they should reform them for everybody, and not set up a tenure mommy track. Treating women different from men ain't going to end with equal treatment for all, now is it?
And note, they tend to focus on women in quantitative fields in academia, as if they focus on other "underrepresented" groups, they're going to get really depressed. Seriously, stop trying to do "favors" to the underprivileged by lowering the bar; no one likes to be condescended to.
Yes, the book seems to be about math and science careers in general, and not academia in particular. But it seems to me all the people doing the arguing are academics; if the numbers amongst academia were "right", we'd probably not be hearing all this whining. It doesn't require being at the pinnacle of math achievement to be in most math-related careers out in corporate land, and you will find plenty of women amongst actuaries, just to pick a math-related career at random [I swear! It was random!]
Cross-posted to powip.com.