Monday, March 21, 2011

The Status of MIT Women Faculty in Science and Engineering

[Note: This is a copy of a post at]

MIT has just released an important new report, A Report on the Status of Women Faculty in the Schools of Science and Engineering at MIT, 2011. This report, prepared in association with the upcoming MIT150 celebration and the Symposium Leaders in Science and Engineering: The Women of MIT, is a sequel to the famous 1999 MIT Report on Women Faculty in Science and the 2002 report of the Women Faculty in Engineering. The new report shows that there has been remarkable progress for women faculty in science and engineering at MIT since the previous studies but that issues remain that will require the continued efforts of the central administration, working collaboratively with women faculty.

The report shows that great progress has been made in addressing the discrimination, bias, and inequities in leadership opportunities that existed a decade ago. I’m heartened by the facts that the numbers of women faculty members in science and engineering have almost doubled in a decade, that women now occupy many leadership positions, and that most women faculty view MIT as an excellent place to work and a friendlier and more supportive place than is perceived from the outside. Some of the senior faculty are amazed by these improvements. For me, MIT’s success over the last decade indicates a good prognosis for further progress towards full gender equity, if we remain focused on continuing improvements.

Continued improvements are needed because the numbers of women faculty in many fields (including my own) are still very small and they still have to deal with problems that men do not – such as being told falsely that they were appointed because of affirmative action. For all the appointment and promotion cases I know in recent years, I am certain this is not true. The women to whom we have made faculty offers, promoted and granted tenure all meet the very high standards of MIT, and it has always been so. If anyone doubts this, consider the percentages of full professors in the School of Science who in 2010 were Members of the National Academy of Sciences: 31% of men and 40% of women. The younger women faculty are an equally impressive cohort.

When women – or any group – are unhappy with the climate, they will not come or, if they do, may not stay. The result is a disheartening and avoidable brain drain as well as harm to the individuals who suffer through the system. The solution is obvious: address concerns, improve the climate, value people for what they do, support them to do their best. Not only will this stem the brain drain, it will also help the faculty be even more successful. As the quintessential academic meritocracy, MIT will achieve its best as an institution by helping all of its community members to achieve their best.

This report encourages us to stay the course of improvements which has brought us so far in a decade. It also gives specific advice about improving mentoring, reexamining family policies, monitoring the equity of service work, and helping dual career couples. Male faculty members are lucky that the women have articulated these issues, which are important to both genders.

I’m grateful to the women faculty for giving MIT’s academic leaders encouragement and the means to further reduce gender inequality at MIT. The steps we take will benefit all faculty members and will help MIT and its faculty to remain Leaders in Science and Engineering.

Ed Bertschinger