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Status of women faculty

Women faculty members face a difficult balancing act. Administrators at MIT were convinced that they treated male and female faculty members equally, but data on office space and other resources proved them wrong. Here is part of what an MIT report has to say about the situation in 1999:


``We believe that unequal treatment of women who come to MIT makes it more difficult for them to succeed, causes them to be accorded less recognition when they do, and contributes so substantially to a poor quality of life that these women can actually become negative role models for younger women... ....

Each generation of young women, including those who are currently senior faculty, began by believing that gender discrimination was `solved' in the previous generation and would not touch them. Gradually however, their eyes were opened to the realization that the playing field is not level after all, and that they had paid a high price both personally and professionally as a result.

Given the tiny number of women faculty and the fact that they are essentially irreplaceable, one would have assumed that all tenured women would be treated exceptionally well - pampered, overpaid, indulged. Instead, they proved to be underpaid, to have unequal access to the resources of MIT, to be excluded from any substantive power within the University. How did this surprising state of affairs come about?

First and foremost it is essential to set aside the issue of whether these women were badly treated because they were simply not good enough. It must be understood that for these particular women the opposite was undeniably true. Despite discrimination, most of these women achieved at an outstanding level within their professions. Forty percent of the tenured women faculty are members of the National Academy of Sciences and/or the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Only people above the average MIT faculty could have succeeded at this level despite the many obstacles the senior women faculty encountered in their careers. Indeed, it should be almost obvious that the first women, the first blacks, the pioneers who break through despite enormous barriers must be exceptional. Once and for all we must recognize that the heart and soul of discrimination, the last refuge of the bigot, is to say that those who are discriminated against deserve it because they are less good."
Committee on Women Faculty in the School of Science


next up previous
Next: What can be done Up: Accessibility of Computer Science: Previous: The pregnancy issue
Dianne O'Leary