As a University biomedical engineering research scientist, Jane Huggins said she”s used to working day-to-day in a field where there are “10 guys to one girl.”
But others think Huggins shouldn”t have to grow accustomed to the unbalanced numbers. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Prof. Lotte Beilyn said she was so disturbed by the lack of women in science and engineering positions at universities that she decided to take action.
Beilyn united with 25 other women in similar positions to help initiate MIT”s Presidents Workshop on Gender Equity in Academic Science and Engineering this week.
University of Michigan President Lee Bollinger was among the nine research university presidents invited to the workshop who released a unanimous statement recognizing the existence of gender inequity in science and engineering fields and vowing to make improvements.
Specifically, the statement agreed to analyze salaries and resources allotted to female faculty and to work toward developing a faculty that reflects the student body. The presidents plan to reconvene in a year to share initiatives and discuss progress.
Bollinger said the leaders examined the disparity between the number of female students and female faculty on campuses.
“It was believed that the inclusion of women in the faculty would happen as a matter of course, that the numbers would increase naturally,” Bollinger said. “That has not turned out to be right.”
University of Michigan Vice President and Secretary Lisa Tedesco said the number of female science and engineering students shows that qualified women for faculty and research positions aren”t in short supply.
“It”s a problem of recruitment and retainment,” she said.
Bollinger said there are many causes of gender inequity, making a quick solution difficult.
“We have to first recognize that there is a problem and commit ourselves to a solution,” Bollinger said. “You have to care that something happened here. It”s a multi-faceted problem.”
But while noting the problem, Bollinger added that he believes the University has done more work on the issue than most other universities.
The workshop was specifically aimed at universities where science and engineering fields are highly developed. Other institutions represented, in addition to the University of Michigan and MIT, were the universities of Pennsylvania and California at Berkeley, the California Institute of Technology and Princeton, Yale, Harvard and Stanford universities.
Tedesco pointed out that three of the nine leaders at the workshop had ties to the University of Michigan. Besides Bollinger, Princeton President Harold Shapiro is a former University of Michigan president and MIT President Charles Vest is a former University of Michigan provost.
“It says something about the importance of the role of Michigan in these conversations,” Tedesco said.
Beilyn said the most crucial development at the conference was recognition of the problem from people who are in a place to change it.
“It happens,” she said. “The numbers show it, the experiences of the people show it. It”s very important that these universities work on it.”