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New Study at MIT Finds That Female Faculty Members Still Feel Marginalized

By Scott Smallwood

June 2002

Scott Smallwood is an Assistant Editor at the Chronicle of Higher Education who writes
about faculty and graduate student issues. This article first appeared in The Chronicle of
Higher Education (Copyright © 2002 http://chronicle.com) in the March 20,
2002 issue. It has been reprinted in STATUS with permission.

FEMALE PROFESSORS at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
even when paid about the same as their male colleagues, often feel like second-class
members of the faculty, according to a new study.

The information came in a series of reports released this week on the status of women
throughout the institution. The reports follow up on the well-known 1999 study on female
professors in MIT’s School of Science, which showed that women were being paid less and
given fewer resources than men. That report, in addition to leading to change at MIT, prompted
similar studies at numerous other universities.

The new reports, put together by four separate faculty committees, repeatedly point to women’s
complaints about being marginalized.

In a letter to the faculty about the new studies, Provost Robert A. Brown wrote that gender bias
takes various forms, including salary inequities, but also “more subtle forms of marginalization.”
He cited women who feel excluded from major decisions made within their own departments.
“The overall result is the same,” he wrote.“Women faculty members are not equal
participants in our faculty community. A comment is repeated over and over that MIT
is a ‘man’s world.’ This must change.”

Nancy H. Hopkins, a biology professor who spurred MIT to examine gender discrimination
in the sciences, said that more than 200 professors came to a faculty meeting Monday to discuss the
new reports. She said she was optimistic that MIT’s willingness to confront the issue would
prompt other institutions to do the same.

But Ms. Hopkins said the marginalization of women would be hard to undo. “You can fix
salaries,” she said. “But how do you change this? ... Each incident may be tiny, but when
they accumulate they add up to a lot. It’s a consciousness issue.”

Some examples of the discrepancies highlighted in the reports:

  • From 1990 to 1998, the electricalengineering and computer-science department hired 28 men and no women.
    In 2000, 14 percent of the Ph.D.’s awarded in the field at MIT, the University of California at Berkeley, and Stanford University — the three institutions where the department gets most of its new faculty members — went to women.
  • In another engineering department at MIT, women are rarely on faculty search committees.
    A female professor said that during faculty searches, she was asked to talk with
    a candidate only if that person was a woman.
  • In the School of Architecture, one female professor said faculty searches can be
    tainted by gender bias: “You have a mediocre guy and a woman. When they
    talk about the guy, they talk about his degrees. When they talk about the woman,
    they say she hesitates when she speaks, that she’s too heavy, that she won’t fit.”
  • The study in the Sloan School of Management featured in-depth interviews,
    including meetings with all six tenured female professors in the school. The
    researchers “found a big difference particularly between the feelings of access,
    empowerment, and belonging of the men and the women faculty. None of the men
    had a fully negative experience on these dimensions; only one woman had a clearly
    positive experience.”

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