Linda S. Wilson
We are here to explore why industry employs and advances so few women as scientists and engineers. We conduct our inquiry in the context of an environment that is beset with rapid and seemingly constant change. These changes are not minor incremental adjustments. They are changes of significant proportion. They are fundamental transformations and realignments, and they are shaping the parameters within which social, political, and economic events will unfold for many years to come.
I will not dwell on these changes. You have heard about them in speech after speech for the past year or so. Terms like global interdependence, economic competitiveness, and "new world order" have become part of our daily lexicon, and we know that they have profound consequences for how Americans conduct business and view national security.
There are also growing complexities and urgencies regarding how we deal with human rights around the world and human welfare at home. There are fundamental shifts in the roles of federal and state governments and in the relationships among government, universities, and industry. There is a clear recognition that, while developments in science and technology exert great influence on our lives, many of our citizens are woefully illiterate in these disciplines.
So this is the context of swirling change in which we find ourselves as a new century, indeed a new millennium, approaches. While nothing
magical will occur at midnight on December 31, 1999, our vision of that date on the horizon is a useful focal point around which we can galvanize our energy and ideas, reflect upon where we have been, reexamine and rethink our priorities, and plan for the future. With this in mind, the Office of Scientific and Engineering Personnel has moved from a year-to-year planning process to a more strategic, longer-term approach—that is, to projecting human resource needs and planning how to meet them.
Human resources are vital to progress in science and technology, and in a competitive global economy, we cannot afford to ignore or squander them. Women and minority groups are substantially underrepresented in science and engineering. They are resources upon which we need to draw more heavily. This becomes clear when we look at changing demographics and recognize that talent is distributed widely among segments of the population.
It also becomes clear, as the Committee on Women in Science examines what is happening to women in these fields, that we need to focus some specific attention on women in industry. We want to know why, in many U.S. industries, so few women scientists and engineers are employed and why their progress seems to be slower than that of men. In conducting our inquiry, we should learn many important things about women and about industry.
We should also learn about basic human motivation. This is something we do not understand very well, and we are paying the consequences. The costs of our ignorance are enormous, whether we measure them in drug abuse, delinquency, crime, violence, or in many other ways. At my own institution, Harvard and Radcliffe, faculty from a number of departments are undertaking some new coordinated research on the topic "brain, mind, and behavior." One important focus of their work will be human motivation. I am confident that what they learn will help us understand the kinds of issues that concern us here today. And I am hopeful that what we learn here will be helpful in other areas.
Against this backdrop I want to accomplish several things this morning. First, I will quickly review the compelling arguments for the full
participation of women in industry and in other sectors. Then I will identify some recurring themes you are likely to hear over the next two days. This will provide a context—a kind of intellectual map—that I hope will help you process the large volume of information that will be presented. I will then proceed to identify some underlying issues that we need to look at very, very closely. And I will conclude by reporting briefly on some recent research conducted by visiting scholars at Radcliffe College.
Why should society remove barriers that inhibit full participation by women in industry and in many other areas of our society? There are two basic arguments. The first argument is that equal opportunity is a matter of social justice, that all citizens are entitled to fair and equitable treatment. This is a simple argument and one that should be sufficient in and of itself.
The second argument is that increasing the number of trained and engaged women scientists and engineers in industry is an economic imperative. By the end of the decade, women and minorities will constitute a majority of the net new entrants to the work force. Our ability to compete in a global economy, which means our economic security, will be determined in large measure by how well we train these people and the extent to which society utilizes their talents.
A corollary of this argument is that women and minorities bring to the workplace different perspectives and experiences that provide important sources of the renewal and resilience needed during a period of transition and change. Some of the adjustments that are necessary to secure a sustainable future, in contrast to the technology and arms races in which we have been engaged, will require the public's willingness to make short-term sacrifices for the long-term good. Women and minorities must be part of that long-term commitment.
As we consider these arguments—one based on social justice and the other on comparative economic advantage—it should be clear that they are mutually compatible. Indeed, they are interdependent in the long run.
Let me turn now to four recurring themes from the literature and news media that are likely to be raised during the course of this conference:
(1) Complexity in the participants' culture
Like men who are scientists or engineers, women scientists and engineers as a group are not monolithic. They come from different cultures, were trained at different institutions, work in different organizations, and perform different roles within those organizations. The information we develop by identifying these differences will, I believe, point to the convergence of some indicators that can help us partially to understand why there are so few women in science and engineering in industry.
In examining the cultural dimensions of the issue, we must be very careful not to be blinded by Eurocentric biases. Very real differences exist in the culture and the demography of this country today. To succeed in the future, we must understand and value these differences and learn to accommodate them.
The socialization process within ethnic groups involves learning cultural values as well as gender roles. When we consider women of color, we must be careful to recognize the very real double jeopardy they may experience. In the case of African American women, we need to bear in mind that they are traditionally expected to protect men. In Asian cultures, women are expected to support their organizations, and, generally speaking in American culture, women have been expected to place a high value on personal relationships and to be rather careful about being assertive or aggressive.
(2) Complexity in the processes
Multiple factors influence women's career paths. These factors include opportunity, achievement, and choice, and they are connected to each other.
A relatively recent report on women in the chemical industry154 provides some useful information about the shortage of women in that field. The report also suggests some explanations for the way in which women progress. These explanations are hypotheses and not definite conclusions. One suggestion is that gender differences exist in scientific ability—that men are naturally better at science than women. This is a questionable hypothesis, but, nonetheless, one that is on the table.
A second suggestion is that gender differences arise from social attitudes and self-selection by women. Because discrimination has existed against women in chemistry over the years, women have been reluctant to enter that field. And because there are so few females in chemistry, the view persists that this is not an appropriate field for women. Self-selection of a more general nature also may be at work. Faced with the consequences of marriage and motherhood, women have tended to steer away from chemistry and other sciences. The result has been an accumulation of advantages for some and disadvantages for others. Throughout the process, certain groups, in this case men, receive greater resources, while nonrecipient groups, in this case women, become relatively impoverished. This is true even in the absence of intentional discrimination.
This is sometimes called a triple penalty or an interconnected set of relationships: the cultural attitude that science is an inappropriate field for women leads to discrimination; discrimination leads to a reduction in the motivation of women workers; and loss of motivation leads to reduction in women's performance. All of this combined leads to withdrawal from careers, obsolescence of skills, and a further reduction in opportunities. It is a chain of interrelated factors that plays itself out, in one way or another, in many different fields.
(3) U.S. culture, social dynamics, and the sociology of learning
For a very long time, the socialization process has taught men to be good providers. We see this in surveys of men's views of masculinity that
have been conducted over the course of many years. The primary definition of masculinity that emerges from these surveys is being a good provider. The notion that men are responsible for being good providers is deeply embedded in our culture, and it reinforces the structures that exist in industry, academe, government, and other organizations. These structures produce and reflect patterns of behavior that are absent or discouraged in women. As more women participate in the game and move up the organizational ladder, they must learn to play by the existing rules before they can change or adapt them to their talents and culture.
Let me cite an example from the work of Gerald Holton, a faculty member at Harvard. He did a study of the number of scientific articles published by women.155 He found that women tend to publish fewer papers than men but that the papers are longer and more comprehensive. Women seem to take paper writing very seriously, while men tend to develop their careers by publishing shorter, less comprehensive work. Since men are more prevalent in science than women, their behavior tends to establish the norm for what is expected in the field. And since papers and publications are among the most important tangible products upon which scientists are evaluated, you can see how the differences in the way people approach their publications can produce different career outcomes. To clarify the point, one could say that women focus primarily on conducting science (or at least more so than men) while men give more focus to developing their careers. Men do this not for any crass motive, but because society, through acculturation, has taught them they must be good providers. The same responsibility has not been assigned to women historically. This is now changing as women enter the work force in greater numbers, not simply out of a passion to do science but for economic reasons as well.
In considering the social dynamics that apply in the business culture, it is important to take note of the five Rs that describe what is expected of
people in business.156 These five Rs are respect (both earned and given), responsibility, resourcefulness, revenue development (or "rain making"), and risk taking. Women are a part of this culture only to the extent that they explicitly embrace and deal with the five Rs. Until one is part of that culture and successful, it is very hard to make it adapt.
It is important to reframe and restructure organizations and to redefine and redistribute roles of men and women. Expectations and relationships are changing, and it is all a bit unsettling. It is unsettling especially for those who have been in the majority, in part because of larger transformations that are under way. In addressing these issues, however, one must remember that we are dealing with a basic culture and set of expectations (like the need to be a good provider) that are deeply ingrained. The sand is now shifting and security is diminished. The stakes are very high. The issue is not simply enabling women to make their way. It is getting men and women and the organizations within which they work to engage in mutual adaptation.
These, then, are the four themes I expect to unfold as the conference proceeds—complexity in the participants' culture, complexity in processes, the culture itself, and change.
Let us turn our attention now to some underlying issues that we extract from these four themes.
Power: Shared and Not Shared
What, we must ask, sets science and engineering apart from other lines of work? What is it about science and engineering that historically has
allowed our society to view them as being inappropriate for women? What has become so ingrained in our culture that even today we call science and engineering "nontraditional" occupations for women?
Is it an association society perceives between science and engineering and military and destructive purposes?
Was it the early and widely held beliefs that women's intellects were much less developed than men's and that they were incapable of undertaking science and mathematics? Do not forget that as recently as the turn of the century scholars believed that women's brains were much smaller than men's and that their intellects were akin to those of children and chimpanzees. It was also believed that if women used their minds extensively, their reproductive ability would suffer. Perhaps this has had something to do with society's view that women should stay away from science and engineering.
Or perhaps it was a belief that women's subordinate social status was inconsistent with a passion to question, discover, and push the boundaries of knowledge.
It is important to probe the relationship between the historical reasons why women were excluded from science and engineering and the power dynamics that are in play today because such connections can be very deeply embedded in our culture. When this happens it becomes difficult to bring about change. As we look at what is happening both in this country and in other countries, both developed and underdeveloped, we may more easily discover what we can do to change this situation.
The System within Which Our Science and Engineering Enterprises Operate
This system has some fundamental flaws. It has proved to be very resistant to adaptation in order to include women. This is a value judgment. Some would say it has adjusted very rapidly as the overall social system has changed. After all, the major push did not begin until 20 to 25 years ago. On the other hand, those in the system who have watched changes in other areas feel that progress in these fields has been rather slow. The point is arguable.
The system of science and engineering enterprises has also dealt very
inadequately, some would say not at all, with the need to develop effective ways to recycle human capital resources—ways, for example, to reclaim and renew the talents of people who have left the work force for one reason or another. This has been especially true in regard to women, who, incidentally, constitute half the population.
When women bear children they must stop work momentarily and sometimes longer. They must also deal with the responsibility that our society continues to impose on them to carry the brunt of the burden of raising children. At the same time that economic pressures today require that women work, our system has built no bridges to enable them to return to the workplace and regain momentum—none, that is, but the most rickety of bridges.
The patchwork quilt of women's careers is a testimony to their ingenuity in dealing with this fundamental flaw in our system.
So, with those four themes and two issues on the table, I submit to you that the challenge we face is the need for mutuality of adaptation among men and women and work organizations. How these issues relate goes to the very heart of the matter. How they are negotiated and resolved will have a tremendous impact on the quality of the working environment and our ability to build a sustainable future.
One way to approach thinking about these issues of power and adaptation is to ask ourselves why women scientists and engineers, particularly those holding the Ph.D., appear to do better in academe than in industry. I must add, as an aside, that I would be among the first to say that universities too have not done a very good job on this front. Nevertheless, differences do exist in the numbers of women in the two sectors and how well they progress.
One can quickly suggest a number of reasons, and I won't attempt to provide an exhaustive list. I will give just a few that may be illustrative. The greater flexibility in the work schedule in academia may very well be a part of it, and the role that students play in universities may be important too in that the number of women attending colleges and universities has increased greatly since the 1960s. This expansion may have enabled the social system to change more rapidly on campuses than in industry, which has remained male-dominated.
Another part of the explanation may be the greater decentralization of authority in academe. The short-term horizon and bottom-line driving force in industry may have deterred women from participating. They do not come with the built-in cultural requirement to be good providers that is a large part of the driving force for men.
The more frequent use of teams in industry may be a paradox of sorts. The initial barriers to acceptance of women (or most often one woman) into a team may have a lot to do with the difficulty of "getting in and getting on with it" in industry in the early career stage. In academe it may be easier for women to pursue their ideas, since the work is more individualized. At the same time, we find in academe that the isolation of women in the sciences impedes their progression to seniority. Some of the social supports and collaborative learning that takes place in teams are often not available to women in higher education.
The increasing number of dual-career couples and the need to be mobile also suggest themselves as reasons why women prefer academic employment to working in industry, in that greater opportunities to accommodate dual-career couples may exist in large cities with multiple institutions of higher learning.
Please do not get me wrong: universities have a long way to go. But the preference that women have shown for universities over industry is real, and it holds some potential for helping us to understand what is happening.
Metaphors to Stimulate Understanding and Communication
With these two issues, and that set of themes, let me now suggest some metaphors that may be useful in understanding and communicating the underparticipation of women in the industrial work force of the United States. Let me also caution you to use the metaphors very carefully, lest they limit or misdirect your thinking.
One interesting metaphor was developed by Gerhardt Sonnert of Harvard, who worked with Gerald Holton on that study of women's
publication rates I mentioned earlier.157 Sonnert talks about the need that women have to synchronize three clocks—their biological clock, their career clock, and their spouse's clock. It is, in a way, a triple threat and a triple burden.
Another very useful metaphor is that of critical mass, a term that is widely used in science and engineering. I think it was Mildred Dresselhaus who helped us begin to apply that concept to career development and advancement for women, especially in education. She showed us how the dynamics of a classroom change when women become at least 15 percent of the group.
What we need to do, then, is to recognize that the adaptation I have called for will come about more easily as more women move into the work force and as they become distributed more evenly.
A third metaphor we have heard so much about is the glass ceiling. It is important to recognize that this one can be limited and should be used with great caution. It has, like many metaphors, the advantage of two words and a clear mental image that holds out some hope while acknowledging some frustrations. But I think we have gone beyond some of the early work on this concept and have a deeper understanding of what is happening on the other side of the ceiling. We understand that, in fact, the ceiling may not be imposed from above. That is why I say it is important to be careful about the use of metaphors.
Let me add two more metaphors to the array. One is that of the lattice. As I work in this area I have to remind myself continually that we are dealing with a system that has many interconnected parts and that, unfortunately, most of the participants in the system do not think about it as a system. They focus on their own particular part and what they can do to optimize results for themselves and others in their neighborhood. But if we think of the issue as a lattice of interconnected objects with flexible bonds between them, we can see that we cannot touch any one part without causing reverberations throughout the system. As we try to make sense of this system and improve it fairly rapidly, it is important that all participants
understand this interconnectedness and appreciate the larger context in which they exist.
The final metaphor I want to leave you with is that of the reservoir. It is not original with me, but I think it is helpful. In the last 20 years we have moved away from thinking of science and technology as operating on a linear model in which basic research generates ideas, ideas generate applications, and applications generate products. We understand now (although we sometimes act as though we do not) that this is not the way the system works. Basic research is not really the beginning of a long pipeline but, rather, a reservoir into which one can dip to get a better understanding of how and why things work. We now know that many of the driving forces in technology and product development come from outside basic research.
Now that we have taken a quick look at both the power and the limitations of metaphors, let us move on to the final portion of my talk, which deals with some current research. I want to tell you about the work of two different types of scholars.
The first is Bernadette Nelson, who is a consultant in a firm that serves manufacturing and service companies and who is visiting us right now at Radcliffe College. She is working closely with corporations as they try to deal with the changing demography and cope with the diversification of their work forces. She has been working with the management of companies and also in focus groups, training managers to recognize and value the differences that diversity brings, and helping them to build a more cohesive work force.
She reports158 that attrition among women in industry is very high, that most leave their jobs within 1–5 years. The difficulty lies not in attracting women in the first place. The difficulty is getting the young women who are hired to stay on the job. Companies are deeply concerned about this, but they do not understand what it is happening. What is happening, according to Nelson, is that women do not receive appropriate
recognition for their work, they are not advancing in their positions, and they are struggling mightily to balance the demands of work and family. Companies are recruiting some of the best and the brightest, and they think they are treating men and women the same, which is not totally true. In any event, the system is not responding as intended.
Her analysis of this is that men are coming into a system that functions well for them, whereas women are not. The chemical industry, she reports, is feeling this acutely. The women feel that they are beating their heads against a brick wall. Men are stressed in these companies, too, especially the young men with wives who are leaving jobs because of tension. Some of these men as well as women are opting to get off the fast track.
The message we derive from this is that, in some way, work has to be restructured to accommodate today's work force. In this restructuring, we will change people and we will change organizations. But in the end what we will really do is change our view of work and our understanding of how it functions. We will restructure work itself, and it is useful to see the issue this way.
The need to accommodate a diverse work force is only one of the reasons why our approach to work needs to change. Other factors include the downsizing of the work force and the need to work in a much more interdependent environment. In point of fact, the basic compact that has governed the workplace for many years is now being challenged. In the past the compact in industry stated that workers would work hard, the whole family would support the worker, and industry would take care of the worker. Mutual loyalty between employer and worker was very functional. But with the changing economic climate and the restructuring of industry, worker loyalty is no longer being repaid; the compact is coming unglued. What seems to be required is a new kind of flexibility and career path, both for the sake of organizations and the sake of those who work in them.
Let me turn now to my other colleagues, Dawn-Marie Driscoll and Carol Goldberg, who have been studying women in management in a broad range of fields, including law, business, industry, and education.159 They
have been identifying the factors that contributed to the success of these women and the strategies that they have used to get ahead.
One of the factors associated with success that they have identified is "rain making," or the ability to generate business. I spoke about this briefly at the start of my talk. Women often have not understood that in the business world they cannot just work hard, do a good job, and go home. They are expected to bring in business. Think for a moment about a lawyer. It is one thing to be extremely knowledgeable and effective in the courtroom, but if you do not bring in clients, and cannot develop the clients, the law firm does not flourish. The socialization process has bestowed this rain-making function on men and equipped them to play this role later in life. By and large rain making has not been part of the socialization of women.
A second factor that has contributed to the success of women has been their ability to counter cultural stereotypes about themselves by developing professional visibility and personal currency, forging friendships with male peers, and combating subtle sexism. As for the strategies that successful women use, Driscoll and Goldberg have identified several. They include developing leadership skills in women's networking organizations, assuming active roles in mainstream businesses and organizations, and thereby influencing the development of social and economic policy. In other words, these women engaged not just narrowly in their work setting, but in the larger community context, in places where power and influence are wielded.
This research suggests an approach to change—a goal really—that I would like to leave with you. Driscoll and Goldberg call the goal "partnership feminism," by which they mean men and women working together to improve the economic status of all citizens. It is a strategy that combines feminist values of care and interdependence with the realities of world economics and productivity in a partnership in which neither sex dominates.