Thursday, October 15, 2015

Taking the Long View on Sexism in Science

Pat Shipman
American Scientist

"I am one of the many women who exited academic science. Decades later, too many others are still leaving for the same reasons."

"My first lesson in the harmful power of sexual innuendo and stereotype was when I was a new PhD in the late 1970s. I wrote a manuscript for a book based on my thesis, an analysis of fossil animals in Kenya. A major academic publisher turned it down because it was “too controversial.” Stunned that this analysis could be seen as controversial, I pressed the editor for specifics. Eventually, he admitted that one reviewer had said that I could only have been awarded a PhD if I had slept with my committee."

"Thinking of the one married and two unmarried straight men, the two gay men, and the bisexual man that comprised my committee, I decided this assertion was best challenged directly. I was confident my work was good. So I invited the editor to call my committee members and ask them. A long silence followed, in which I supposed the editor was blushing at the mere thought of asking these scholars such an insulting question. To my surprise, the editor admitted that he had done just that. Taken aback, I asked him what they had said. “They said there was no truth in the allegation,” he replied, but he still would not accept the manuscript."

"Nevertheless, Harvard University Press did accept the book, Life History of a Fossil, which became a classic in its field. I wrote of this episode and others in a 1995 column for American Scientist."

"After that column appeared, right up until my retirement in 2010, there were many more episodes of a similar flavor. Once, a younger collaborator of mine and I applied for the same job. At that point, all my collaborator’s publications were coauthored with me, except his PhD thesis. I had a number of independent papers, including a single-authored note in Nature and a book. I did not make the short list but he was hired."

"A few years later, I discovered by accident that I was the lowest paid associate professor in my institution—the same year I began working as an assistant dean. My underpayment was so pronounced that the dean of the entire institution told my chair to give me an immediate 20 percent raise. A friend in administration, congratulating me, said she had once overheard my chair remark that he didn’t need to give me a raise because my husband was well paid."

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