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Ogmius Newsletter

Introduction to Ogmius Exchange

Abstract image of two faces facing eachotherResearchers Donna Nelson and Diana Rogers reported last winter that women make up a very small proportion of scientists, mathematicians, and engineers working at top research universities in this country.  They found that the proportion of female faculty at the 50 top institutions in all ranks was as follows:

Mathematics – 8.3%
Chemistry – 12.1%
Physics – 6.6%
Biological sciences – 20.2%

See Nelson, Donna J., and Diana C. Rogers, 2003: A National Analysis of Diversity in Science and Engineering Faculties at Research Universities.

Nelson and Rogers conclude that the poor representation of women at the faculty level in the sciences may deprive female students of appropriate role models and lead to their attrition from these fields.  However, Nelson and Rogers did not identify the cause of this under-representation.

Some of the problem may be discrimination.  Title IX prohibits sex discrimination at institutions receiving federal financial assistance for educational programs.  Because the sciences receive billions of dollars in federal funding each year the GAO launched an investigation into what is being done to ensure compliance with Title IX in the sciences.  Its final report found that federal agencies must do a better job of reviewing grantees to assure compliance with Title IX.  See Women’s Participation in the Sciences Has Increased, but Agencies Need to Do More to Ensure Compliance with Title IX, General Accounting Office July 2004.

Another part of the problem may be culture.  Patricia Rankin, Professor of Physics at the University of Colorado, writes in this issue of Ogmius that the scientific fields are seen as being “highly competitive occupations that require a total commitment from their practitioners to the exclusion of all else. They are perceived as being unwelcoming and inflexible in their definitions of success.”  To help address these cultural barriers Rankin heads the NSF-funded Leadership Education for Advancement and Promotion or LEAP program here at CU.   LEAP seeks to facilitate change by giving both women and men useful skills for organizing their own lives and by improving the leadership skills of managers. 

As Rankin notes, “the lack of diversity affects everyone, and everyone should take on the responsibility of working for change.”