Sunday, January 25, 2009

Obama's Desire for More Women in Science

I found an interesting article in the New York Times on how Obama plans to address issues of women in science.  It is not that women are not capable of researching such math-heavy and logic-oriented concepts.  Likewise, it is not that women do not not have the drive and stamina to keep up with the work of such time-consuming jobs. Rather, it is actually for a science-related reason that most women choose not to go into such demanding careers within the field of science.  Women are the child-bearers of our country.  Women are needed to have families and produce children that can continue our nation, our ways of living, etc.  This hugely time-dependent reason might be what is holding women back from pursuing careers in science.  Obama wants to try to fix this.  In the article, "In 'Geek Chic' and Obama, New Hope for Lifting Women in Science," Natalie Angier writes:
Dr. Mason and other legal experts suggest that President Obama might be able to change things significantly for young women in science-- and young men-- by signing an executive order that would provide added family leave and parental benefits to the recipients of federal grants, a huge pool of people that includes many research scientists.
This would probably cause there to be less of a gap between genders when it comes to math and science and research.  It is nice to know that Obama is looking out for women wanting to reach their full potentials, career-wise and all.


Ali Wunderman said...

I'm glad to see that the article suggests added benefits for women already in the career of science, having made it there by their own merit, rather than giving them science-related jobs simply because those careers are under-represented by women. That type of affirmative action would be discriminating against qualified men. I am also glad to hear this because I am a female headed for a degree in a science field, so if I ever want to have kids I don't need to worry about losing my job!

stephkasten said...

This support for females in science may be one way for Obama to appease Hillary Clinton's following of professional women. Surely large numbers of women were hugely disappointed by Clinton's failure to gain the Democratic nomination, so they expect significant gains to be made towards closing the gender gap to make up for this loss. It will be interesting to see the other ways in which Obama accommodates women over the course of his term.

elmacdon said...

Very interesting observation, "stephkasten." He probably is trying to make up for the support that women lost by losing a female president.

swatsonucd said...

I think that this is an important step not only for women, but also for science as a whole. It is nice to see science being put back on the record, after federal support seemed to slip during the Bush Administration.
As for his plan, I'm not sure if the assumption that women are less inclined to go into math and science careers because they are the child bearers is a correct one. I think this is oversimplifying the matter, and simply giving women more time to stay with their children will not necessarily drive more women into these fields. This aside, I think that this plan is a wonderful step forward, and I look forward to discovering what else Obama does for both women and the fields of science and math.

Shawna said...

I refuse to believe that women (myself included) do not pursue careers in scientific fields due to their future plans of motherhood.

Similarly, I refuse to believe that the scientific reasons provided in this blog post (child-bearing, baby-making, family-nurturing, food-providing) are the reasons why there are less women than men in the sciences.

I've always thought women are more naturally drawn to the arts and social sciences because we are the more communicative sex. In fact I remembered learning in a high school psychology class that women's brains are better adapted to the usage of language. THIS is the most likely SCIENTIFIC reason why there are more women in the arts/humanities/social sciences, and why there are more men in the maths and hard sciences. In order to provide some research and verify my comment, I found a website on the differences in men's and women's brains concerning language:

"For men, language is most often just in the dominant hemisphere (ninety percent the left side), but women are able to use both sides for language. This gives them a distinct advantage. If a woman has a stroke in the left front side of the brain, she may still retain some language from the right front side. Men who have the same left sided damage are less likely to recover as fully."

"Inferior-parietal lobule (IPL):This is a brain region in the cortex (the cortex is responsible for the higher intellectual and cognitive functions of the brain), significantly larger in men than in women. Furthermore, the left side IPL is larger in men than the right side. This is the same area, which was shown to be larger in the brain of Albert Einstein, as well as in other physicists and mathematicians. So, it seems that IPL’s size correlates highly with mental mathematical abilities."

"When it comes to empathizing, women tend to be higher than males in verbal skills, social skills and security-seeking, while men tend to be higher in independence, dominance, spatial and mathematical skills, and rank-related aggression.

Two areas in the frontal and temporal lobes related to language (the areas of Broca and Wernicke, named after their discoverers) were significantly larger in women, thus providing a biological reason for women’s notorious superiority in language-associated thoughts."


So, while childcare may encourage women to pursue careers in science, I would argue that more women will still gravitate toward the subjects in which they can use their innate biological strengths.

akclark said...

The New York Times article on how Obama intends to increase the number of women in science is quite interesting. It was refreshing to see a story addressing a new strategy to close gender differences in the makeup of tenured faculty. The idea that President Obama may be able to change the proportion of women in academia by providing added family medical leave benefits to the recipients of federal grants was amazing. Family medical leave act protection matters a lot in my circumstances, as a female pursuing a DVM degree and the proposed change will significantly affect the female population on the faculty that I will be working with in the future. Fewer women will be forced to leave tenured and other positions in academia. The idea of having more women in science is a refreshing switch from traditional stereotypes. One does not have to be a parent to make use of family leave, at one time we may need to take care of mothers, fathers, brothers or sisters. It isn’t fair for females to lose their job, teaching position or grants when they must take a leave to care for a loved one. I do not know the specifics of his order but the idea that he may be able to change the number of women in science by having additional family leave and parental rights when they receive federal grants is a great idea. It would be good to my school, a Research University and will improve the researcher gender balance in future. It provides added protection to people who are young who may have had to drop out and lets them continue their research work. This is an example of one type of “change we can believe in,” that comes with executive orders of the new administration.