Earlier this month the Harvard Business Review released a research report titled "The Athena Factor: Reversing the Brain Drain in Science, Engineering, and Technology". Their stats that for the basis for the report:
* 41% Science, Engineering, and Technology (SET) professionals are female at career lower-rungsI haven't read the actual report ($295 is a bit beyond my budget, even with a money-back guarantee), but the contents have been widely reported in the mainstream media. So what did the they find? Tara Weiss summarized the issues for Forbes:
* 52% quit SET jobs, peaking at 10 year career mark
* 5 major factors contribute to mid-career SET female attrition
* 13 companies share initiatives designed to keep women on track with SET careers
* 25% reduction in female attrition adds 220,000 to qualified SET labor pool
Of course men have children and elderly parents too. What she didn't say - what's just assumed - is that the burden of raising a family and taken care of elderly parents falls to women. And it's not just not having a second job at home that's the problem, it's lack of respect from their male colleagues, as the New York Times reported*:
So why are women leaving? Many said they're often the only women on a project team or on a work site, amid a pervasive macho culture that's hostile and excludes them. Since so few are in the upper ranks, there aren't female mentors to shepherd women through challenges and support them for promotions.
In many cases they said they didn't even know how to get to the next level--it seems like a hidden code. And since these are jobs that require long hours--some experiments require scientists to take samples at regimented times 24 hours a day, seven days a week--it's nearly impossible to manage raising a family or caring for elderly parents.
The 147-page report (which was sponsored by Alcoa, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, Pfizer and Cisco) is filled with tales of sexual harassment (63 percent of women say they experienced harassment on the job); and dismissive attitudes of male colleagues (53 percent said in order to succeed in their careers they had to “act like a man”); and a lack of mentors (51 percent of engineers say they lack one); and hours that suit men with wives at home but not working mothers (41 percent of technology workers says they need to be available “24/7”).Be sure to read the article for the story of Josephine/Finn. Women who didn't participate in "locker room stuff" were also excluded from important information shared by their male colleagues - and networking and inside information are important for advancing your career.
Despite those problems, women don't seem to have a problem with the actual work performance:
They also do well at the start, with 75 percent of women age 25 to 29 being described as “superb,” “excellent” or “outstanding” on their performance reviews, words used for 61 percent of men in the same age group.So it doesn't seem likely that the reason why women leave is that they are unable to perform their duties.
And biotech companies are better at keeping their female scientists, which is not that surprising, considering that women receive a much higher percentage of graduate degrees in the biological sciences than in the physical sciences or engineering. As the Chicago Tribune reported:
Of note is Cambridge, Mass.-based Genzyme, where 51 percent of scientists are women, as are 42 percent of senior managers. The publicly traded company has about 10,000 employees worldwide. The company's list of core values provides a clue. It includes principles common to many entrepreneurial companies—innovation, collaboration, drive—but topping Genzyme's list is compassion.I'm not sure it's necessarily "compassion" that is their secret, unless that refers to an atmosphere where "macho" behavior is discouraged.
The bottom line is that it's an issue of economics. Companies are concerned about the brain drain of their experienced female employees, so Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Cisco (among others) have begun to institute programs that they hope will help retain women scientists and engineers. The Genzyme example demonstrates that it certainly is possible for a successful technology-based company to include women at all levels of its work force. Only time will tell if other companies can replicate their success.
Sean at Cosmic Variance has some thoughts about the article (and a story about Richard Feynman's sexist behavior). See also Jake's post at Pure Pedantry.
* Apparently this article ran in the "Fashion & Style" section of the Times, rather than business section, which only really makes sense if you assume that anything having to do with women is a "fashion" issue.
Tags: gender gap, women in science, women in engineering