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Work Toward Equality

Family issues are but one part of the reason why women have lower participation rates in the sciences, writes Meg Urry, an astronomer at Yale University, at Nature News. This past year, she adds, has brought gender equality issues in the sciences to the forefront as a Nobel Prize-winning biochemist said women in the lab were 'disruptive'; an astrophysicist referred to astronomers and their telescopes as "boys with toys"; and a University of California, Berkeley, astronomer resigned following the revelation he'd sexually harassed female students.

"None of these incidents were in any way related to motherhood, which was — and is — too often invoked to explain the dearth of women in science," Urry writes.

Instead, she argues that the metrics against which researchers are measured for hiring, promotions, and more are biased in favor of white men. Studies, she adds, have shown that men apply for lots of jobs, while women tend to be selective and apply to ones that match their qualifications well. It's not, she says, that women aren't interested even though their numbers in the applicant pool may be lower.

To increase the numbers of women and minorities in science, Urry suggests a few approaches. For instance, she says hiring committee should agree on and then evaluate candidates based on a set of desired qualities, like their subfield, teaching ability, and publication record, among others, to reduce bias, and where possible, she says reviews should be blinded. The proportion of women hired by orchestras, she notes, increased dramatically when auditions were performed anonymously behind a curtain.

"The literature abounds with other best practices for academia," Urry says, adding that "[w]hat is missing is not ways to do better — but the recognition that we must change."