Women of MIT: Concluding Words

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PRESENTER: Thank you [Katrina] Thank you everyone, especially my co-organizers. I want to bring up a slide here-- Slideshow? Yes-- which will, in several ways, begin to express my gratitude and appreciation and also excitement for what we've accomplished. I chose the title Successes and Challenges long before I had the secondary, the byline, of the women's new report, which was a celebration with caveats. We've heard that so many times, and well, I'm afraid we're going to hear it again.

But first, I want to talk about the successes. This is a truly remarkable group of women. Half of them are members of the National Academies. Many of the rest are young and will be elected to the National Academies.

Of course, there are three winners of the National Medal of Science, two MacArthur Fellows, two Howard Hughes Medical Investigators, and so on. We've heard the list of awards in the introductions. This is one cross-section of the women faculty in science and engineering at MIT, and we could have taken other slices that would have shown similar awards and similar tremendous progress in the advancement of our women faculty.

A week ago-- actually, less than a week ago now-- I wrote to community members in my department expressing my opinion that this symposium would bring together the greatest collection of speakers in science and engineering that I had ever seen at MIT or any place else. I'm now very pleased to say that not only did it bring them together, but it provided the greatest set of talks on science and engineering that I've ever seen at MIT or anyplace else. This has been an historic symposium. 50 years from now, if the trends in college enrollments continue, I can imagine a woman academic asking her elderly colleague looking back on this video, gee, were there really male department heads back in those days?

There is a place, of course, for both genders, and it has been a tremendous privilege for me to work with the women. And I wouldn't say so much take the tape measure as be entrusted to carry it. To work with them. And I'm very grateful to them for that.

This has been an inspirational symposium for me, for many of the young women in the audience, I'm sure. We're going to look for ways to carry that inspiration forward, and I hope that members of the audience and the organizing committee will think about how we might do that. Producing promotional videos, perhaps other forms of media, that can just show the world the amazing things that our women scientists and engineers are doing. Because we've heard time and time again that we have to draw young people into the field. This is a great opportunity for the future.

Yes. Challenges. Yes, so now on to a bit of the challenges, a bit of the caveats. And I am going to recap some things here, but these are important.

These issues were reflected in the recent report of the women faculty in science and engineering. They've been restated time and time again in the symposium, and I feel it's my responsibility as well-- as a man interested in the progress of women in science and engineering-- to point out these areas that need improvement, so that the next time MIT has a major anniversary celebration we will have seen, if not complete eliminatiom-- well yes, complete elimination of these challenges.

The first one is to acknowledge that women have experienced a series of slights that most men have not. This kind of statement is very disturbing. I've been an academic leader in my department at MIT for about 10 years. In that time, I have never once seen a woman hired, appointed, promoted, recruited, admitted, because she was a woman. And yet, the myths persist. They are told by men, sometimes by faculty, sometimes by students. This kind of statement should stop. It is untrue and hurtful to the women and to the institution and frankly, it is hurtful to the progress of the Academy. That is of what we do in training students in advancing knowledge in the university.

We've heard much about cultural stereotypes. Those are present. There is a societal element, it's true. I was talking with the wonderful young women from Xavier Preparatory School in Phoenix at lunch and asking them for advice about how can we reach young women and show them a different image of the young woman as a scientist. And they pointed out that, well, this is not what the television shows are showing now. But despite the societal elements, we still have a responsibility in the universities to do what we can. And I think we can do more in society even than we have.

The service burden has been alluded to and was a major point in the report on women in science and technology. And frankly, one of the reasons why I undertook an energetic leadership of putting this symposium together was I knew that the women that I was trying to recruit were incredibly busy in their labs and with many service obligations of their own. And so this is something that I could do to alleviate that burden. But equally, as a department head, it's my obligation to look at the service responsibilities for faculty members across my department and to try and ensure some equity there, and I try to do that.

Implicit bias has been spoken about, especially in this morning's session by Abby Stewart. This is an incredibly important subject, because it affects whom we hire and how we treat people. We have to acknowledge that our brains are wired-- through learned experience I believe-- with certain biases. And these can be measured. There's no question at all that we have schemas and biases present. We must acknowledge them and work with them.

And finally, the big one, work-life balance. This is a struggle for women and men in science and engineering, demanding technical fields, and faculty roles that involve so much work, often long hours, particularly when you have a lab. You have to keep experiments running, sometimes nights and weekends. And you're populating those labs with graduate students, post-docs, and research scientists who themselves may be trying to raise families.

Who is the leader in this picture? I hear a big sigh from the front row. There is nothing in this picture which tells you that anyone is a leader. And yet one of the illustrations of implicit bias that Abby Stewart had on her slides this morning was exactly the effect of looking at who is sitting where in a table and just coming-- some people-- to the conclusion that the older white male is the leader.

We have to catch ourselves in that moment of implicit bias and stop and think, maybe it isn't so. If you have doubts that you experience such a implicit bias, then I strongly encourage you to go to implicit.harvard.edu Play a little video game, the Harvard Implicit Association Test, pioneered by Tony Greenwald and Mahzarin Banaji. She's a Harvard psychologist. You'll have great fun actually playing with the game and trying to outwit it and demonstrate that you're not biased.

Bias, of course, is important because it can affect the outcomes of things like faculty searches. It was stressed this morning that the responsibilities for faculty hiring reside largely within academic departments, and therefore department chairs have an important role. Now, at the level of schools and university as a whole, of course there is responsibility to institute procedures that take account of and correct for implicit bias and other defects of searches.

And yet, the individual apartments can go further. In the School of Science, Hazel Sive, associate dean, has introduced implicit bias training for all search chairs. This year in the physics department, I introduced similar training for all members of the search committees. And I think that's very important to continue to remind ourselves, especially when the committee's like in my department are predominately male, that we have to step back from our first impressions and reactions and acknowledge that implicit bias may be in effect.

I've also encouraged proactive searches by asking my committees to assemble in advance a list of potential candidates from whom to encourage applications. I-- looking ahead several years-- encouraged them to bring prospective candidates for visits to the campus to get to meet the department members. Even perhaps in their post-doctoral years, sometimes even in graduate school years, to start to develop relationships with very promising faculty candidates. And that will take some time, I think, to be fully effective, but I believe it's a step in the right direction. To quote Shirley Malcolm of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, "We need our search committees to be conducting searches, not sorts."

There it is. Work-life balance. The elephant in the room sometimes, as it were, or the big can of LEGOs that Heidi Hammel so evocatively showed us. This is a struggle for our young parents.

Last week, Molly Potter-- who was Nancy [INAUDIBLE] doctoral supervisor-- and I met with MIT postdocs as part of their regular professional development series. We met with about 45 post-docs across, I think, mainly sciences but probably also engineering. About 3/4 of them were women and in fact, we had gone to talk about work-life balance. It's nice, again, to have a male faculty member discussing this, just to show that it is a concern for both men and women and again a department head, having the perspective of what his faculty are facing. And I was very moved, as I think Molly was, by the strong concerns of the young women about their ability to balance having a family and an academic career. I hope that some of these women are here or will be watching the videos because the example set by the many women speakers in the symposium are a great one to follow and show that it is possible.

The childcare needs are real. Several times in this symposium we've referred to a book put out by the National Academies of Sciences called Beyond Bias and Barriers. It has a series of recommendations for steps that universities, governments, faculty members, department heads, and so on can take to work towards gender equity and equity in general.

Recommendation A1 is to develop family-friendly procedures, including such things as on-site daycare and scholarship support for not only faculty, but also graduate students, post-docs, and staff. This is an area where we have to do more, because the cost of daycare is so great. And even though MIT built a wonderful a new daycare center in its Stata Building, which opened in 2004, it has only 14 infant-care slots for all of MIT, and there's a preference given for faculty.

Well, my department of physics is about 114 of all of the faculty at MIT. Currently, we have five infants who would fit in the two to 14 months infant room at the Stata Center if there were spaces available. Five from the faculty. Three, I believe, from our prize post-doctoral program, the Pappalardo Fellowship program. And one from a graduate student mother.

So that's eight slots, just for one department. Now, maybe the physicists are more reproductive than others. I tend to doubt that. But rather, I view this as evidence that we need substantially more childcare support. And I know that it is expensive, but let's just think how expensive it is to the scientific community for the loss of talent that leave the pipeline because they can't afford daycare to maintain motherhood or fatherhood while being a postdoc.

I think we're up to the challenge, and I take a very optimistic view of the report's conclusions. This year's wonderful report on the status of women faculty in science and engineering at MIT. We have some action items, to be sure, and we've heard them so many times before. To improve the mentoring, to monitor faculty service, to ensure equity, train department heads, and I would plead for considering and seeking funding to increase the childcare slots and scholarship support.

Another element of this-- it's, in fact, I think, deeply related. Sometimes it's called climate. But when I became department head, I first met with the graduate women in physics, because I knew something about their plight and I wanted advice about how to be a proactive and supportive department head.

One thing the women told me was, create a culture of caring in the department. Pretty simple message, but a very powerful one at a university that is sometimes called a praise-free zone. Or where we talk about the sink-or-swim approach to success. Yes, that's how I came into MIT as a faculty member 25 years ago. It was the standard.

But I would argue that the sink-or-swim methodology was discredited in the 1980s. And surely, if we want young scientists to succeed, then we should be supporting them professionally and personally in a friendly environment. And for that reason I'm proposing, at least in the context of this discussion, that we extend MIT's logo to Mens et Manus et Core.

Oh, the dream team. It has just been an absolute honor to work with these women and to work in the advancement of inclusion and diversity at MIT. I think that 50 and 100 years from now, their pioneering efforts will have been extended in ways we cannot imagine, and they will allow us to tackle new challenges of under-representation that Bob Birgeneau mentioned in his presentation.

I dream for a time when everyone at MIT-- male and female, whatever race-- black white brown-- gay or straight, whether they're faculty, staff, or students-- have the support needed and the opportunities for doing their very best work. At MIT, we talk about inventing the future. If we really want to invent the future at MIT, then we must first invent our own future. Thank you very much.