How to Level the Playing Field for Women in Science

How to Level the Playing Field for Women in Science

The ‘baby penalty’ in academe could be eased with four key reforms

By Mary Ann Mason

The good news: Many more women than ever before are completing Ph.D.’s in the sciences. Back in 2000, when I was appointed the first female dean of the graduate division at the University of California at Berkeley, I was delighted to learn that about half of the incoming doctoral students in the biological sciences—and more than 30 percent in heavily male fields like chemistry and engineering—were women. However, I also noticed that in most of the science departments where young women were eagerly enrolling, very few of the faculty members were female.

Today we know a lot more about what happens to women in the sciences after they receive their Ph.D.’s. My Berkeley research team has spent more than a decade studying why so many women begin the climb but do not make it to the top as tenured professors, deans, or presidents. We followed thousands of graduate students through their careers and extensively surveyed and interviewed faculty members, postdocs, and administrators, both at universities and at federal agencies.

Our most important finding is that family formation damages the academic careers of women but not of men. Having children is a career advantage for men; for women, it is a career killer. And women who do advance through the faculty ranks do so at a high personal price. They are far less likely to be married with children. We see more women than we used to in visible positions, like presidents of Ivy League colleges, but we also see many more women than men who are married with children working in the adjunct-faculty ranks, the “second tier,” and one of the fastest-growing sectors of academe.

Our study also identified interventions that could help change that disheartening pattern. Some of these policies are now in place at some universities and are being promoted by some federal agencies. We are at a critical point, where the story could change dramatically: The “baby penalty” could be wiped out, or at least greatly ameliorated, by these four reforms: better child care (in many forms), effective dual-career policies, childbirth accommodations, and compliance with Title IX’s prohibition on pregnancy discrimination. To read the full article visit:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.