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More women needed in science, MIT prof. says

womeninscience.jpgMassachusetts Institute of Technology professor Lotte Bailyn encouraged more women to enter into higher levels of science and mathematics yesterday at Harvard University. Michel Ann O'Malley

Universities still need to improve the number of female scientists hired at higher levels, said Massachusetts Institute of Technology organizational studies professor Lotte Bailyn last night at Harvard University.

Bailyn jokingly thanked Harvard President emeritus Larry Summers for putting the issue of women in the sciences in the forefront, after his comments suggesting women have a biological disadvantage in the science field caused an uproar, leading to his resignation from the university.

“There is nothing in research that shows that women don’t have the drive and the capability to succeed in science and engineering,” Bailyn said to an audience of about 40 women and three men.

“There are no intrinsic differences [in ability], but there are biases,” she added.

Bailyn said universities, so far, have not received as much pressure as businesses have to change their hiring practices because the public often assumes universities base their hiring decisions on merit and not sex.

“Awareness is one way of overcoming this,” she said.

Bailyn focused on a 2006 study, “Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering,” which recommends ways the government, scientific societies and universities can improve hiring practices of women, including publishing more data on hiring standards.

After the conference, many female science students from area universities refused to comment publicly about their own experiences of discrimination, saying it could damage them professionally.

Lucy Stark, who holds a Ph.D. in chemistry but is now pursuing an advanced degree at Harvard Law School, said she wonders whether the academic world can resolve the under-representation of women in science.

“It’s still very difficult to speak about this, because [women scientists] are afraid of jeopardizing their career,” she said.

Dina Aronzon, an applied physics graduate student at Harvard, also said women face barriers in the sciences, but she recognizes members of both sexes, once they are established in the field, face similar stresses to earn promotions and gain recognition.

“When I’m one of three women in a class of 50 men, I think it’s a problem,” she said, but added the scientific world is challenging for everyone involved in it.

“The idea that we are supposed to work 12 hours a day, every day, is a very scary idea,” Aronzon said.

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