Broadsheet over on Salon.com alerted me to the impending arrival of a report produced by the Harvard Business Review entitled "The Athena Factor: Reversing the Brain Drain in Science, Engineering and Technology." Based on a study of 1000 American women professionals in the science and technology fields, and a survey of 3000 women abroad with similar credentials, the report paints an unhappy picture for today's women scientists and engineers. In particular, it found five negative factors that cause nearly half of the women in the report to leave the field upon reaching the ages of 35-40:
While I am not a woman, I can certainly understand why women might feel this way.
- hostile macho workplace cultures,
- feelings of isolation (being the only female member on the team),
- stalled career paths,
- risk and reward systems that put risk-averse women at a disadvantage, and
- unusually time intensive schedules that detract from family and social relationships.
The sciences are, in some ways, populated with men who might belong to Arthur Conan Doyle's "Diogenes Club" -- a men's club "for some of the most un-club-able men in London." Techies, at least in my industry, do not become techies to be social or political creatures. We're there to solve problems. We work with machines and lab equipment because, on some level, we're happier doing that than dealing with people. If you ever get the social/political itch, you become a manager or a marketer -- and go on to make more money and attend more meetings than working science and technology people ever do. Being a Meyers-Briggs type INTJ myself, schmoozing and politic-ing is something I am not good at... and besides having a strongly analytical mind, I find the notion of dealing with technological systems more comfortable than human problems to a certain degree.
As exhibit A for this tendency, I merely need to point out my own behavior when I am focused on a problem. Mrs. Geek calls it "being on a mission". I don't want to socialize, or interact. I want to focus and work on a problem until it is solved. Socialization is secondary; it's a tool I use only when I need information or understanding that I cannot deduce myself and obtain from written material. There is not a lot social chatter over the cubicle walls where I work... and at least one of my female co-workers has commented on this.
This unfortunately lets a lot of misogynistic behavior come through. Being more focused on problems, we men do not take the time to communicate about proper socialization and normalization as we probably should. Combine that with the fact that so very many of the people in sciences in the United States are from places like China, India, and Eastern Europe -- places where feminism is viewed as more of a corrupting foreign influence than a guiding principle -- women do get treated badly, and men are not punished enough for it.
I wish this wasn't so. I try not to make it so. But we need more women in the field to make change possible... because I think part of the thing that is broken cannot be fixed without more input from women themselves. So I hope there are some MBA-types who will take this report from Harvard Business Review to heart and put some measures in place to keep women in the field. We need them. For so many reasons, we do.
on 2008-05-13 at 6:37 p.m.
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