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Sexism, Stereotypes, and Spousal Support

For its August issue, Marie Claire spoke with MIT Professor Hazel Sive about the sexism among science and engineering faculty that scarred the school's past, some of the stereotypes female scientists face, as well as her personal advice for women who would like to pursue academic research careers. (The article appears on page 87 of the magazine; we will include a link when the article is live on the Web site.) Sive tells Marie Claire that when she arrived at MIT 29 years ago, female faculty were not only paid less, they were given less lab space. "A male faculty member would have 2,000 square feet, while a female faculty member would get 400 square feet," she says. Though MIT has changed many of its policies, Sive says that there's still "a perception now that the hiring process is unfair. People think: 'Oh, she was hired because we need women.' And it's not just men that feel that way." Plus, she adds, a recent MIT report shows that women working in science still face unconscious biases during the hiring process. "We'll get letters of recommendation for women that talk about how organized they are in the lab, which sounds neutral and nice, but actually detracts from the candidate," Sive says.

Later, Marie Claire asks Sive whether the stereotype that female scientists are "Teva-wearing eggheads," affects how women approach their looks in the lab. Sive says that to be taken seriously, women feel as though they "can't come off as soft, which is synonymous with compliant. … The day before I went for my first interview, I made a pact with myself to stop wearing makeup." It was only years later Sive allowed herself to again use cosmetics, she adds.

For women seeking academic careers in science, Sive suggests they plan their personal lives as carefully as their professional ones. It's best, she says, to find a partner "who will not expect you to give up your career for theirs" and who is willing to share family responsibilities, like child care. "Too often we see women take lesser positions than their male partners," Sive says, adding: "It's not usually the other way around."

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