Smashing the Glass Ceiling

BOSTON--The leaders of nine top U.S. research universities yesterday pledged to break down the barriers that hinder women from advancing at their institutions. Meeting at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the all-male group stopped short of setting a specific agenda but acknowledged that women face greater obstacles than men in climbing the academic ladder. "It's momentous just to get these nine together," comments Patricia Jones, a biologist and vice provost at Stanford University in Menlo Park, California, who observed the meeting.

University Full professor Associate professor Assistant professor
Berkeley *38/3 4/1 9/1
Caltech 20/2 3/0 4/1
Harvard 16/1 0/0 4/0
MIT 21/3 2/0 6/1
Michigan 26/1 5/2 7/1
Penn 22/2 5/0 4/1
Princeton 21/0 2/1 2/0
Stanford 18/1 3/0 4/0
Yale 18/1 1/0 4/1
TOTAL 200 /14 25/4 44/6
Percentage 7% 16% 14%
*All ratios indicate total/women professors
No entrance. Women chemists are filling the first rung of the academic ladder at top schools at rates well below their share--31%--of the current Ph.D. pool.

Hosted by MIT President Charles Vest, this week's meeting grew out of a 1999 internal report that found the small number of MIT women science faculty had less lab space, recognition, and leadership responsibilities than their male counterparts (ScienceNOW, 23 March 1999). In a one-page statement, the presidents agreed yesterday that barriers exist, that more data are needed, and that they would work together to improve the situation. The discussions ranged from offering child care at academic conferences to monitoring the progress of young faculty and guarding against gender imbalances in hiring and promotions.

Following the MIT model, a number of schools are putting together their own reports. Participating in the discussions were the presidents, chancellors, or other senior administrators of Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale universities, the universities of California-Berkeley, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, the California Institute of Technology, and MIT.

A major focus was on quantifying the problem (see table). Shirley Malcom, education chief for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, which publishes ScienceNOW), laid out the issue in the daylong, closed-door meeting. "You can't make progress to a goal without measuring it," she told ScienceNOW. Vest says that while the group did not endorse a collective approach to data gathering, participants agreed to find ways to fill in the gap. Such details likely will be discussed at a second meeting tentatively slated for 2002.

Financial backing for the meeting came from the Ford Foundation and an anonymous donor, each of whom gave MIT $500,000 last spring to address the issue of women and minorities in academic science. "They encouraged us to reach out," says biologist Nancy Hopkins, a leader of the MIT study effort. MIT is chipping in a similar amount.

Related sites
The 1999 MIT report about Women Faculty in Science