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Shift Subtle Biases

A culture shift is needed to better support women in science, writes Claire Pomeroy, president of the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, at Scientific American.

Though the number of doctoral degrees in the life sciences awarded to women increased from 15 percent to 52 percent between 1969 and 2009, she notes that, in 2009, women made up less than a fifth of full professors in biology-related fields and even smaller percentages of permanent department chairs or deans of medical schools.

Some of this disparity, she writes, can be traced to subtle biases and microassualts against women that, over the years, erode confidence.

For instance, she refers to a study that appeared in PNAS in 2012 in which science faculty members who evaluated identical résumés, save for the male or female name attached to it, rated the male applicant to be more competent.

In addition, enduring prevalent sexist jokes, insults, and having contributions overlooked, but then praised when a male colleague then mentions it, is wearing and undermines ambition, she says.

"If we are to achieve the full promise of science and medicine, we must use all the brainpower available to us by ensuring the full participation of women," Pomeroy says. "We must reprimand blatant harassment, but we must do much more than that. We must change the culture of our organizations so that women feel the value they bring to science will be encouraged and celebrated."