Women of MIT: The Status of Women in Science and Engineering at MIT

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BERTSCHINGER: And now, it gives me great pleasure to introduce our keynote speaker, professor Nancy Hopkins. She is the Amgen professor of biology, and a celebrated microbiologist.

Professor Hopkins studies early development, longevity, and predisposition to cancer in zebrafish. She has made this little fish a model for studies of those important elements of her own human physiology. The importance of this work has led to her election to the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

In addition to her scientific contributions, professor Hopkins is well-known for her work promoting gender equity in academia. She chaired the committee that wrote the 1999 report on the status of women in the School of Science.

Over the past year I've had the special pleasure to get to know professor Hopkins as a colleague, a friend, and mentor. Nancy Hopkins will now give our keynote address on the status of women in science and engineering at MIT. Please join me in welcoming her.


HOPKINS: Okay, well I'm going to have to talk fast because I think I'm already behind on my schedule. So I hope I have time to do all this. Can I get the first slide up? Let's see. Here we go. Well, thank you very much, Ed, and Susan, and David. And thank you to the organizers for the opportunity to reflect on the changing status of women in science and engineering at MIT.

So if you've happened to read a newspaper or magazine in the last 30 years, you've undoubtedly read about the underrepresentation of women in science and engineering in the United States, particularly at the high end of these professions. And no doubt you have heard of the infamous leaky pipeline, which refers to the fact that talented women in science and engineering have traditionally left these fields at a higher rate than men at every stage of career. So by the time you get to the top, as we heard, the percent of women is still quite small.

Enormous amounts of time, energy, money have been spent analyzing this problem and today we really know quite a lot about it. Perhaps, not surprisingly, MIT has made several very significant contributions to understanding the leaky pipeline, what causes it, and how to fix it.

It turns out that understanding this problem requires that you do two things, analyze the numbers of women in science and engineering as a function of time, and what change those numbers, and examine the experiences of the women who first entered these fields as undergraduates, moved on to graduate school, joined university faculties, and became professors. When you do these two things the mystery actually begins to evaporate, and a quite fascinating story emerges.

Today I'm going to take you through that story using primarily MIT data and experiences. But what I have to say really applies to all comparable research universities. And much of what I have to say about the leaky pipeline of women in science and engineering pertains to the advancement of women to the top of other previously male-dominated occupations.

It might surprise you to know that the percent of women on the science faculty of MIT today is greater than the percent of women in the United States Senate.


HOPKINS: Shocking.


I'll begin with numbers that display the leaky pipeline. I'll use, again, data from MIT throughout this whole talk. Because if there's one thing that MIT excels at, as you know, it's collecting data. And all the numerical data I'm going to show is thanks to Lydia Snover, and her wonderful colleagues in the Office of Institutional Research at MIT. So I thank them for all the work that they have been contributed to our efforts over many years.

This slide shows the percent of MIT undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty. Undergraduates at the top. Let's see-- does that show? Yes. Undergraduates, graduate students, and science and engineering faculty.

Today about 45 percent of undergraduates majoring in science and engineering at MIT are women. 29 percent of graduate students and 17 percent of the science and engineering faculty combined. So that's the drop off that I mentioned of the leaky pipeline, 45, 29, 17.

This picture can be just divided into two distinct segments, as David referred to earlier. For the century ending in the mid-1960s, and late-- and mid-1960s to early 70s, fewer than 5% of MIT undergraduates and PhD students were women, except during the two World Wars, when men went away. And there were no women faculty in science and engineering in this period.

Then suddenly the student careers began to rise dramatically in the late 60s, early 70s, and the faculty careers began to rise above zero, and then they increased in the early 70s. Why is this? The turning point was the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and subsequent affirmative action laws, and the women's movement, which altered people's thinking dramatically about the role of women in society.

But, why are there no women on the science and engineering faculty for the first 100 years? After all, a few women got PhDs as early as the 1920s as we heard. I don't know the answer for MIT, specifically, because I wasn't here. But the following anecdote applies probably to most universities in the United States.

When I was a graduate student in the 1960s I worked summers at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, where I met a remarkable woman scientist named Barbara McClintock. I was in my early 20s, Barbara in her late 60s. I thought she was ancient. I think in this picture she's actually in her 80s. And one day Barbara showed me a letter that had been written a number of years earlier, probably in the 1940s, to a biology department chair by a well known geneticist. The chair was soliciting suggestions for candidates to fill a faculty opening in his department. The geneticist had offered several candidates names and then added, of course, the number one person in the world in this field is Barbara McClintock. It's too bad you can't hire because she's a woman.

Barbara told me she could not get a faculty job in any university science department, only in home economics departments. So women simply could not get faculty jobs in science departments before the mid-1960s. Fortunately, Barbara managed to get a job as a research scientist at Cold Spring Harbor, with support from the Carnegie Foundation. And by the way, at the age of 81 she won the Nobel Prize in medicine.

Now, I mention this story because we think of science as a meritocracy. And to a very large degree it is. But Barbara McClintock's story shows that societal beliefs can overpower merit. You could be the best in the world and still not be hired.

So as we see in this slide, in 1964 it became illegal to deny women access to jobs based on gender. In addition, the number of women in science and engineering majors began to climb nationally, as did the number of graduate students. Women began to be hired on to science and engineering faculties. So people assumed after that it was just a matter of time until women would quickly comprise half the science and engineering faculty. But that was not what happened.

As the next slide shows in greater detail for the science faculty of MIT. So the previous slide showed the percent of women faculty in science and engineering combined, and this slide shows the actual number of women faculty just in the six departments at MIT, as a function-- six science departments of MIT as a function of time.

So in 1960 there actually weren't any women in the current six departments of science that we have today. They began to be hired in the mid-1960s and by 1970 the number had reached two.


There were 264 men. Then, after 1971, the number shoots up by a factor of 10. Why is that? 1971 saw the implementation of the affirmative action regulations under the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The Shultz Regs, named after then, US Secretary of Labor, George Shultz. The Shultz Regs required universities to submit written plans to hire women, and to do so, or risk losing their federal funding. Women were hired because the Civil Rights Act removed the barrier to them being hired and the federal law mandated it.

I was approximately-- oh, oh-- go back. I was approximately number 10 on this rising curve. I was hired in 1973. I was superbly trained, I'd done very visible research as a graduate student at Harvard. Had I been a man and applied for the job, I bet I would have gotten it. But I hadn't thought to apply, actually. I was actively recruited by MIT and Harvard-- and chose MIT-- for my credentials, but I assume, in part, because it was the law.

You'll notice that after this curve got up to about 20 women, hence 7% or 8% of the science faculty, it pancaked for 20 years. If you were to plot a graph of the number of women faculty in engineering, it's almost super imposable on this curve during this early period. It begins in 1964 with the hiring of Sheila Widnall, and then it shoots up about 1973 or '74, to reach 10 women faculty before plateauing for a decade.

I'll come back to these plateaus and to the forces that drove the curves up again. But first, a major conclusion from this historical view. Why did I tell you all this ancient history, particularly when we have experts, like David, to reflect on it? But here is why. I wanted to introduce my topic, really, by doing this. In retrospect, it's very obvious that not being able to get a job is a serious barrier to women's advancement.


Equally clear is that the early 70s were a turning point that threw open the doors of universities, and other workplaces, to women. But what we did not know then, what is not easy to see, and what has taken us nearly 50 years to understand, is that on the other side of that 1964 wall were a series of obstacles to women's advancement that were unanticipated and largely invisible. Furthermore, some of these obstacles were almost as effective at excluding women as the fact that they couldn't get a job at all. It turns out identifying these invisible gender-based obstacles, and removing them, takes about 30 years. When you realize there wasn't just one of them, but several, it's easy to see why the pipeline leaked and why women's progress to the top has been so slow.

So next I'm going to describe how the key obstacles are identified and removed, and I'll keep a running list so by the end of this talk, hopefully, we'll have a complete explanation for the leaky pipeline.

OK, so far we have just one obvious obstacle before 1964, could not be hired. Definite obstacle. OK, well, to explain how the barriers to women's advancement were identified, you have to turn now to the experiences of those pioneers on the front of the waves of undergraduates and graduate students I showed you before, some of whom went on to become faculty. So the question is, again, I don't know if you-- yes, here we are. OK, what happened to these women who began to come into MIT as science and engineering majors, then became graduate students, and ultimately moved on to the faculty? What were the experiences of those women who began to pour into the system in the early 70s?

Soon after I arrived at MIT in 1973, I met Mary Rowe. She had been appointed by President Wiesner, and then chancellor, Paul Gray, at the request of the few women faculty would arrive several years before me, to deal with the issues that were already affecting female students and faculty. And here's a picture of Mary Rowe.

Mary became a pioneer in women's issues at MIT, and in the United States. When we met she was grappling with an issue I had never heard of called sexual harassment. She told me that female students were having a difficult time dealing with professors who wanted to date them. I didn't understand immediately the seriousness of this problem. You put men and women together in the workplace, what had they expected? Nor did I think that I had ever experienced sexual harassment as an undergraduate. It took me some years to realized that maybe I had.

For example, here's a curious case, when I was an undergraduate at Harvard, I was sitting at my lab desk one day, writing up notes, the door of the lab flew open and there stood a scientist I didn't know, but recognized instantly. Before I could rise from my desk and shake his hand, he had zoomed across the room, stood behind me, put his hands on my breasts, and said, what are you working on?


It was Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA.


Did I feel harassed? No, not at all. I was very embarrassed, of course, but for him, not for me. The challenge was to figure out how to refocus his attention on my lab notebook without offending him.

What I did not grasp until years later was that a man who treats a student that way may not be genuinely interested in her lab notes.


And therein lay the problem. Most of us, including those who were affected, had trouble seeing these barriers as they happened. Fortunately, Mary Rowe, and the MIT administration, did understand the implications of this behavior in the workplace, and they set about to change it. You can actually look up the term, sexual harassment, in Wikipedia and read about MIT and Mary's role in this.

Meanwhile, activist lawyers, like the great Catharine MacKinnon, a lawyer from Michigan, established in court that sexual harassment constituted illegal gender discrimination, under Title VII and IX of the Civil Rights Act, because it made it impossible for women to be equal in the workplace. Today federal law requires every workplace to post a set of rules to prevent sexual harassment, or risk being sued.

MIT recruited professor Jay Keyser to develop these rules and implement their enforcement. From start to finish, it took Mary, and Jay, and the MIT administration, about 30 years to all but eliminate sexual harassment from classrooms and workplaces. In this time frame it is absolutely typical for most workplace barriers that women have encountered, 30 years. And by the way, even after the problem is solved, or 98% solved, you don't repeal the law, and throw away the rule book. You have to continue to enforce the rules indefinitely.

So you don't suppose that sexual harassment could possibly have driven some young women from the science and engineering academic pipeline, do you? [LAUGHS] I think it's reasonable to add it to the list.

So what happened to the women after they graduated from college, and went on to graduate school? And the answer was, dearth of mentoring. When I was a graduate student, I had never heard of formal mentoring programs at Harvard, and I assumed it was because mentoring just happened, as a matter of course, when students looked like the faculty, or in the case of some women, like me, when the women were lucky enough to find fabulous male mentors. Mine was Jim Watson, the co-discoverer, with Francis Crick, in the structure of DNA, and a far more hands-off mentor.


Without Jim's support I very much doubt I could have become a scientist. But it turned out that many women students were not as lucky, and formal mentoring programs had to be devised and implemented. Incidentally, this evening you can experience the life of a female math graduate student at MIT in the 1980s in a play by Gioia de Cari. Gioia was a summa math graduate from Berkeley, who came to graduate school here, leaped out of the pipeline, and became an actress and playwright. Math's loss, theater's gain.

Do you suppose that lacking a mentor, who encourages you to become a scientist, and helps you to do so, could possibly have anything to do with women leaving the academic pipeline? I suspect so. Put it on the list. And by the way, although women at the leading edge of these waves were the first to encounter these obstacles in significant numbers, they didn't leave them behind as they advanced to the next stage of their careers. They accumulated them. The barriers were cumulative.

Well, if you were a young woman who was lucky enough not to be derailed by sexual harassment, and you found a powerful male mentor who pushed you along, were you home free? No. During the transition, from getting a PhD to joining the faculty, was when young women were likely to encounter, what I thought when I was young, was the only barrier to women's advancement in science, the family-work problem.

When I was a student in a post-doc at Harvard, noticed there were almost no women on the science faculty, and I thought I knew why. It would seemed obvious. I could see that high-level science, the only type I was interested in, required that you work 70, or more, hours a week. The post-docs then were nearly all men. Many already were married, with wives who stayed home to care for their children. How could you possibly be the kind of scientist I aspired to be, and be a mother? I found a simple solution to the problem. After obtaining my PhD, and doing a post-docs, I got divorced. Just to be on the safe side, I decided not to remarry, and not to have children. So much for that problem.

Now that many of you have become experts in identifying invisible gender-related obstacles to women rising to the top, you have doubtless divined that what most of us saw then as a woman's choice, to have children, or not to have children, for many of us, was not really much of a choice at all. Institutions in which high-level science was done, were gendered. Men and women had different assigned roles. The men were expected to work night and day, and support the family. The women to abandon their jobs, and work full-time at home to support the men at work. And that was a system in the 50s 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s.

In fact, we still grapple with the residue of this system today, even though, it long ago ceased to reflect, or serve, the reality of young people's lives. Did women, or men, really have a choice? Certainly not an equal choice.

It didn't occur to many of us that this was a barrier that someone should remove on our behalf. I thought it was a biological reality, that's a woman's choice. So daunting was this particular obstacle that for decades, women of my generation instinctively knew that at work they should never talk about pregnancy, or children, for fear that people might not think they was-- might think that they were not serious about science. You wanted to be sure that people knew you were happy to be a nun of science, and in fact, personally, I was.


But the question of whether having to decide to have children, or not, contributed to the leaky pipeline, is really a rhetorical question. We know that it did, and we know it still does. And studies by Mary Ann Mason and Marc Goulden at Berkeley, have confirmed that having children causes women to leak from the academic pipeline preferentially. So this barrier certainly belongs on the list.

Well, enough. Is that it? Were there any more barriers for women who wanted to be part of this fabulous world of science and engineering that was so welcoming? Who weren't derailed by sexual harassment, or lucky enough to find great mentors, who were willing to forego having children? There was one more, and it took many of us 20 years on the faculty to understand it.

And I'll tell this story from a personal point of view, because I was involved with other women faculty at MIT in identifying and addressing this particular obstacle. So the final barrier, I like to call-- I'd like to hope it is.

Like many women of my generation, I joined the MIT faculty in 1973 believing that the Civil Rights Act, and affirmative action laws, and the women's movement, had eliminated gender discrimination. I certainly did not expect to experience it. I fled from feminists. I just wanted to be seen as a scientist. But over the next 15 years I learned I was wrong. Gender discrimination still existed. I figured it out, at first, by watching how other women were treated. What I saw was that when a man and a woman made scientific discoveries of equal importance, neither the discovery, nor the woman, was her discovery, or that woman, was valued equally to the man and his discovery.

Sometimes the woman got no credit at all. She could be invisible. These observations, as you can imagine, were almost impossible to believe. Science is a merit based occupation, so how could this be true? But after many years of watching through the 70s, 80s, and into the 90s, how women faculty scientific contributions were treated relative to men's. I was certain that women and their science were undervalued.

Amazingly, it took me 20 years to know it was even true of me, not just other women. That, I believe, is called denial.


The realization of this strange truth was very, very demoralizing. Sometimes I wanted to quit science. Alas, I couldn't afford to. I came to feel that my life had been a failure. I had cheerfully given up a lot to join a profession I truly loved. But I came to realize I would never be accepted in it, no matter what I discovered. Worse, I believed I was the only person on earth aware of this strange truth. And you couldn't tell anybody because, who would believe you? Plus they would assume, as I always had, that if you complained of bias it must mean you weren't good enough. If you were really good enough, if you discovered the structure of DNA, for example, they would have to give you the Nobel Prize and you would be accepted as equal, right?

Alas, as I finally realized, if you were a woman you could make a Nobel Prize level discovery and quite possibly not win the Nobel Prize, or even be viewed as having done critically important work. In time it dawned on me that this strange truth I had discovered might be the most important scientific discovery I had ever made. It was so important it deserved a Nobel Prize in itself.


What I did not know, and would not learn for another decade, was that the discovery I had made so painstakingly over 20 years, had already been made. Furthermore, in 2002, a Nobel Prize was awarded for a version of this discovery. What I had discovered, unbeknownst to myself, was the psychology of unconscious bias. It was psychologists, not biologists, who had discovered the phenomena in the 70s and 80s, by a series of remarkable experiments. Their research demonstrated the irrationality of the human brain to make accurate judgments, and to see truths that contradict our unconscious biases and beliefs.

In the case of gender bias, the result of unconscious bias is to judge identical accomplishment as less good if we think it was done by a woman. For a related finding involving irrational decisions, the 2000 Nobel Prize in economics went to the psychologist Kahneman. As for unconscious gender bias, which is the slight over-evaluation of work done by a man, slightly undervalue work done by a woman.

Another very surprising thing about it is the belief that women are less good than men persist, whether the judges are men, or women. Both undervalue identical work when it was done by a woman. There are enormous consequences to unconscious bias in the workplace, obviously. It can affect many aspects of the job, how the person is treated, their compensation, whether they're hired in the first place.

Here's a typical example of the effect of unconscious bias from my era that relates to teaching. When I was a young professor, a colleague asked me if I would like to co-teach an important undergraduate core course with him. I agreed. He said he would ask the chairman for his approval. A few days later my colleague returned to say the chairman had said no. Because although he thought I was a very good teacher, he knew that MIT undergraduates would not be able to believe scientific information spoken by a woman. I knew instantly the chair was right, and I was extremely grateful to him for sparing me from a potential disaster.

But what I find very odd today is that this knowledge did not open our eyes to the serious consequences of the unconscious undervaluation of women's competence in so many of their academic duties. I shrugged it off as simply the way the world was, and I happily continued to teach the undergraduate lab course I taught almost exclusively of women faculty in that era.

Do you think unconscious gender bias and the undervaluation of women's work could contribute to the leaky pipeline? Or the failure to hire women, unless novel efforts are made, to see beyond our unconscious tendency to undervalue their accomplishments. I think that's a no-brainer, so I'm putting it right on the list.

Alas, I did not know about the psychology research. Meanwhile, I had come to the end of my line. I was struggling to do research I was very excited about, and despite being a tenured professor could not get minimal space and resources I needed, and that I knew were available to my male colleagues. I decided to take my case up through the MIT administration until I found somebody who would listen. But happily along the way I mustered the courage to tell a female colleague what I had learned. I chose Mary-Lou Pardue, a biologist I admired for her wisdom and her extraordinary scientific accomplishments. To my utter amazement she had discovered the same thing I had. We looked at each other and said, you don't suppose there could be others do you? [LAUGHS]


With our colleague, Lisa Steiner, we had inventoried the tenured women faculty in the six departments of science so we could ask them. And we made the startling discovery that in 1994 there were only 15 tenured women, and 197 tenured men. I said, this is impossible, it's 30 years after the Civil Rights Act. I checked the back of the catalog, maybe they list the women separately, do you think?


We found two women in engineering with joined appointments in science, and we added them to the list. The small number made it very easy to poll them, and quickly 16, of the 17 women, signed a letter to Bob Birgeneau, then the dean of science, informing him there was a systemic largely invisible, and almost certainly, unconscious bias against women faculty. We asked him to convene a committee to document the problem so he could fix it.

The committee was formed essentially, secretly, since like me, these women scientists did not want to be seen as feminists. The committee interviewed all the tenured, and most of the untenured women faculty and collected data. We found that as women progress through their careers from junior faculty to tenured professors, they were gradually marginalized, excluded from access to resources, and professional activities, rewards, and compensations that make MIT such a superb and envied environment in which to do science.

This exclusion rendered the women's jobs more difficult and less gratifying. The women, of course, also noted their tiny number on the faculty, just 8%. They suggested that the negative experiences many of them had had, might even contribute to these small numbers of women since female students often told them, I don't want to be like you.


As one woman remarked, who could blame them? Neither do I. The word that came to summarize the women's experiences was marginalization. And this is certainly a major factor.

In response to this report, then dean of science, Bob Birgeneau, immediately corrected many inequities, and recruited a few women faculty to administrative roles in science. Importantly, he also said, the answer to this problem is more women. Birgeneau quickly identified top women scientists around the country, and he went to get them. And this explains the second rise in the curve. Okay, here we go. This rise there is the direct result of Bob Birgeneau's response to the report of the women in science. We call that the Birgeneau Bump.


The original women in science were absolutely thrilled, they returned to their labs, the committee continued to function under Molly Potter's leadership, which was a very important thing. But there was more to come. The story of what happened several years later has been told many times, including in a book commemorating MIT's 150th anniversary.

In a chapter by Professor Lotte Bailyn, who chaired the MIT faculty in 1999, Lotte asked us to write a summary of our committee's findings for the MIT faculty newsletter. Somehow the story ran on the front page of the Boston Globe, and the New York Times. The reaction from outside MIT overwhelmed us. We were inundated with email from women across the country saying, they too had experienced the same problems of marginalization, exclusion, inequity, and no one in their institution would listen to them.

I believe there are two reasons the MIT report in 1999 had such an impact. Besides the fact that it got clearly articulated, and apparently near universal, work plays issue for women. The most important was that Charles Vest, the president of MIT, had read the women's, report believed it was true, and decided to endorse it publicly at a time when most institutions denied and suppress similar claims by their women faculty. This-- to accompany the newsletter article, Vest wrote, "I've always believed contemporary gender discrimination within universities is part reality and part perception. True, but I now understand that reality is by far the greater part of the balance." This was truly MIT moment of decision.

The second reason the report received so much attention, I believe, was because of the scientific stature of the women who had documented this kind of invisible discrimination. Here is a picture of the 16 tenured women in science who wrote to Bob Birgeneau in 1994. And most of them are still here at MIT. Several have moved on to head other institutes. One is an Obama appointee. These women are, as Susan pointed out, extraordinary scientists. And here is a slide that shows just a few of the accomplishments of those original 16 women who set off on this issue. Three of them have won the US National Medal of Science, and nearly 70% of members of the National Academy of Sciences.

When someone complains of discrimination it's often assumed, or said, they really aren't good enough. But no one can say that about these women without looking downright silly. Incidentally, many of these women were hired in the 70s as a result of Shultz Regs.

So, how did MIT address the problems of the 1999 report? After all this publicity, in a way, they were on the hot seat to find solutions to the problems the women had discovered. The first thing it did was to replicate the study in the other schools of MIT. And in particular, for this occasion, in the School of Engineering, professor Lorna Gibson chaired a committee that obtained very similar results to those in science. The dean of engineering at the time, Tom Magnanti, quickly stepped in to fix inequities and hire more women by devising truly innovative recruiting methods, and search procedures.

But how do you fix all these issues in the long term, and embed solutions in the policies, and practices, and culture of the institution, so the problems just don't come right back. And these are not trivial problems. There were no women faculty in the academic administration. There was unequal distribution of resources and rewards. Family-work conflict for junior faculty was keeping people from even joining faculties. A small number of women faculty, the marginalization, undervaluation-- these are not trivial problems.

MIT's approach was to appoint women who had worked on this issue into the central administration to work with the powerful administrators, the president, the provost, and deans, with the authority to write new policies for family leave, to track equity for women faculty, to monitor fairness in hiring, and so forth. And the next slide shows the white boxes of the existing MIT administration, and its structure from president, provost, five deans, the department heads under that. And the other boxes around them are the committees, and so forth, that were set up under the Vest administration.

To grapple with this issue, in particular, I was appointed to co-chair, with the provost, a committee-- so I sat on the academic council, and that was a committee where the provost could have direct input into this issue.

This slide shows some of the people that were part of President Vest team at the time, to take on this work. Wonderful provost, Bob Brown, and Rafael Bras was the head of the faculty that at the time, and to name most of these others. Some of the accomplishments of three new family-leave policies, led by Lotte Bailyn and engaging the whole community, a new day-care center, smack in the middle of campus, so babies wander everywhere now. Recruit women to the administration. Make sure department heads are inclusive of women. Check equity annually.

But we knew it would take longer than one administration to remedy these things. What would happen in the transition from Vest administration to Hockfield's, particularly in recruiting, since faculty turns over every 35 years. And you have to track hiring for decades. The answer is, the process, not only continued, it was expanded and strengthened under Susan Hockfield's leadership. So this is team Hockfield with-- Barbara Liskov was appointed to a new position as-- a powerful position of associate provost, to work with Rafael Reif, on these issues. And Deans, Kastner and Subra Suresh, appointed Barnhart and Sive to work with them as associate deans. And this has been enormously effective.

And the next slide shows some of the accomplishments, say these are positions that were created, educating department heads about searches, increasingly proactive, heads and faculty. And if I could say one thing that to me has meant the most, I would say it was the engagement now of so many proactive department heads and faculty. And I think the existence of this symposium, the fact that a male department head of physics proposed it, that MIT selected it, is in itself a reflection of the extraordinary accomplishments of the Hockfield's administration, its commitment to women, and the partnership that was established under these two administrations of the women faculty, and the administration. So, thank you to all involved.

And how is the impact of all this? Well, here we see another jump in the curve. That's the Kastner-Sive jump. This is the number of women in science at MIT today, now up to 19% more than the percent of women in the United States Senate. And, of course, you do after three such clear affirmative efforts, ask, as always, has quality suffered? And I hope everybody knows the answer to that by now. Of course not. Here is today the number of women in the School of Science who are full professors, who are members of the National Academy.

And I don't mean to imply for a second that the women are better than the men. And not at all. These numbers are too small to be significantly different. All I'm trying to say is that men and women hired at MIT are extraordinary, all of them.

So, what about engineering? And again, the work of Barbara Liskov and Rafael Reif, and Dean, Subra Suresh, and so forth. Total faculty has gone from 10% to 16% since 2002. Again, maintaining standards. Do we even have to ask?

So today there are many more women in the MIT administration versus zero when we began. There more than twice as many women faculty as in the mid-90s. Equity is reviewed on a continuous basis. It's become routine for women faculty to take family leave, have children, get tenure. And half these changes made MIT a more welcoming environment for women faculty, science and engineering, than a dozen years ago.

So in honor of this symposium, as you know, is decided to find out by interviewing all the women faculty in science and engineering in three groups, the women who had participated in these studies a decade ago, more than a decade ago, in the original study, women who received tenure after those studies were done, and junior women faculty at MIT today in science and engineering. And the results are summarized in that report that was issued last week and that you have in your hands today.

New report. So, drum roll, please. The results, I find to be a remarkable-- a really, a really remarkable change. First of all, older women, my generation, are perhaps the most impressed because we have seen such dramatic change. But probably the best news of all, of course, is that so many of the women who came after us are so happy at MIT, and feel very privileged and excited to work here.

So here are some representative quotes from the report. If you look at the women of my generation, we just look at each other, "who would have thought it possible in our lifetime?" We were happy about these amazing changes. Tenured women faculty, "MIT has given me a platform for recognition." "This has been a fabulous-- "MIT is not warm and fuzzy, but enabling." I love that.


Junior women faculty, "this is a place full of energy and a great place to be junior."

So, is everything fixed? Well, I hope I have convinced you that would not be possible because, as you know, it takes 30 years to remove one of these barriers that have hindered women's advancement, and years of monitoring after that. And MIT is only 12 to 15 years into this effort of correcting the problems identified in the report of '99 and 2002.

So we would expect the efforts would need to continue for at least 15 years. And, indeed, problems persist. Which is why MIT's accomplishment is cause for celebration. But with caveats.

So, what are the problems that remain, that we learned about from this recent study? Some are lesser versions of old problems. For example, today many core courses in science are taught by women hugely successfully. However, young women say they sometimes see that students respect male faculty more than female faculty. And I'm sure they're right.

Some are new problems arising from changes in society. For example, a two-career problem didn't really exist in my generation. Women followed their husbands and whatever happened, happened. And some of are problems that actually arise from the solutions themselves.

So as my last topic I'd like to just address one problem that emerged from the interviews in all three groups of women faculty. Indeed, we've heard this from our female post-docs graduate students, and even undergraduates. It's a fascinating problem, which I believe reflects the problem that underlies much of what I've been talking about. The issue is the perception that when women advance, they must have done so through some sort of unfair advantage, or lowering of the standards-- when they were hired, when they got tenure, when they win prizes. And the negative impact this false perception can have on women's confidence.

I hope you'll agree from my talk there are two kinds of affirmative action. One was designed decades ago to increase diversity by temporarily lowering requirements for certain schools and jobs. That kind of affirmative action is actually illegal now. Furthermore, it never existed in faculty recruitment at MIT, except possibly, in the era when only men could be hired.


Instead, as I showed, a second type of affirmative action was needed, first, end the prohibition against hiring women, and then to recruit exceptional female candidates. But why does it take special, or different effort, to hire women if they're just as good as men? Why doesn't it just happen on its own? Because, first, there are fewer women in the pipeline, so it's more work to find them. Second, we may overlook women since we can undervalue them even when they are as good or better than male candidates, and their letters of recommendation can also be impacted by unconscious bias. Third, because for a variety of reasons women may not apply unless they are asked.

Why does it bother women to have people insinuate they were hired due to affirmative action, and does it matter? This is one study we don't have to do. The psychologists, again, have already done it ahead of us. It turns out-- tell a man he was hired due to affirmative action he says, so what? I'm the best person for the job. [LAUGHS] Tell a woman the same thing and you can seriously undermine her confidence.

Why is there this difference? Because, psychologists believe, both men and women suffer the unconscious bias that women really are less good than men, so hinting that women were hired because of affirmative effort reinforces this unfounded, unconscious, and destructive bias.

But why would anyone believe that women who get tenure at MIT a less good than men, particularly when the data so clearly show it isn't true? Where does this insidious belief come from? The answer-- to answer a question that difficult you have to go up the river to Harvard and ask that brilliant economist, university administrator, and my good friend Larry Summers.


His hypothesis that women have less intrinsic aptitude for science and math, and engineering fields was a stunning public declamation of where this problem comes from. It comes from us and from the society around us. There is not one shred of credible scientific evidence that any group of people is intrinsically, i.e., genetically inferior in any intellectual activity required for science and engineering, least of all women, and not for lack of research to find it.

This is not a scientific belief, really, but a bias. I think it is not unreasonable to ask whether promulgating a belief in the genetic inferiority of women, or any group, in schools or workplaces, should, like sexual harassment, be illegal under Title VII and Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, since it creates and reinforces an unequal playing field.

Would this whole problem disappear if MIT stopped its conscious institutional efforts to recruit exceptional women, and stop talking about it? Absolutely not. Biased would still be present, unconsciously influencing judgments.

The only defense is to keep putting it on the table, and deal with it as the new report on women faculty wisely did. It's the unfounded, unconscious bias itself that needs to change men's and women's undervaluation of women. And women's undervaluation of themselves, is, perhaps, the very last barrier to overcome.

And we know we have to keep attacking it because even freshman women today ask us, how should I deal with male classmates who tell me I only got into MIT because of affirmative action. These young women tell us this attitude began when they were in high school. Clearly our job will not be done until society sees women's equal academic achievements as equal. The biased view of women contributes to the leaking pipeline, even for students come to college, especially in the physical sciences and math.

How will we know when we have succeeded? When 50% of Congress is women, for starters. Having seen so much progress at MIT in just a dozen years, I now know this is going to happen, maybe in my lifetime.

In closing, I hope you'll agree that we understand quite well the leaky pipeline, and the underrepresentation of women at the top of science and engineering fields. And we know, too, how scientists and engineers can lead by example in the solution of what is, in truth, a very broad societal issue. Thank you very, very much.


BERTSCHINGER: Nancy Hopkins will be happy to take questions. Please come to the microphones that are placed at the front of each of the aisle, and I will alternate the questions to her.

AUDIENCE: That was wonderful. And I really admire you immensely, and I really appreciate this overview. And I do think it's still-- lot of problems. And one thing that was missing, and I speak out for total self interest. On your chart is post-docs. And I have encountered the exact same things, still at this day, in a lab, in which I'm the only woman at MIT. And the difference between me and a faculty members-- I can't even find a cohort because I've just got my lab. And I was essentially-- I feel I have been treated very differently, and held to very bizarre standards. Really, truly, bizarre standards.

And I don't-- I can't say is because I'm a woman, but I do suspect it does have something to do with it. And I have very much felt like, how can I complain? It just-- is a sign, I'm not good enough. Thank you.

HOPKINS: Yes. There in lays the problem. I think, you know, as Lotte Bailyn taught, social change is so uneven. And so, the whole of it can be advancing, but there are pockets that is as if they're 20, 30 years ago. And, that's one of the things that makes it very painful. I find-- I encounter them myself, still. And when they happen I can get so angry. I think, don't these people know things have moved on?

No. It's a very uneven process. The solution to it has been, I believe, to find others in a network who can agree with you. It's being alone that makes it really, really awful. And that was what my mistake was in not finding other women. And it doesn't have to be exactly in your field, or in your department, but broader.

But post-docs is something that the administration is seriously working on, and Ed might want to comment on it, because this is a very major, major issue of their group that's going to fall in through the cracks. There is more help for undergraduates, and graduate students, and faculty now, and post-docs have, sort of, lagged.

BERTSCHINGER: I mentioned a little bit about the perspectives and challenges faced by post-docs in my concluding remarks since, particularly, the work-family balance is a big issue for our young post-docs and faculty. Over here, please.

AUDIENCE: I wonder if you have done any research on multicultural bias?

HOPKINS: I haven't.

AUDIENCE: I did. When I was here. One of my research projects was observing multicultural children in the school system for a whole year. And I was, like a kid, every day filming them. One of the things that I learned was that some of the problems that you alluded to, such as, you know, the equality between man and woman really starts out as children. And I have a piece of film that I would love to show you, where these-- these are second-graders. And one Italian boy takes the credit away seven times, with seven different excuses from a Vietnamese girl. And she never stands up. So--

HOPKINS: I think there's-- this is an issue, which has been grappled with a lot at MIT, I'm just not the right person to answer the question. I think it's a very fascinating, complicated thing. I hope you'll send me an e-mail and come by.

AUDIENCE: I'm just curious if you could comment on this-- the assumption, I think, that's made in a lot of these discussions, that-- especially vis-a-vis work-life balance. The assumption that we're still talking about women who are in conventional nuclear, or heterosexual families.

HOPKINS: I see. Are we? I mean, you can be in many kinds of families and have the children-career problem. It seems to me. I'm not sure. Would something else like to comment on that? It's a very good point. And maybe we should be more clear about the diversity of families, if that's what you're referring to. You're absolutely right. And, perhaps, that was not-- maybe I haven't made that clear enough. Good point.

AUDIENCE: Hi, I just wanted to say, thank you. My name is Heidy, and I coordinate the Women's and Gender Studies Program here. And I'm very curious, do you consider yourself a feminist now?





Not only that, but I have to apologize to those feminists who made it possible for all of us to be here.

AUDIENCE: I'm Jenny McFarland, class of '78, and post-docs in the early '90s. And many people here, actually Lotte and Nancy, and Millie Dresselhaus, participated. When we were here we started a short-lived, probably, as post-docs are transient. We were in post-doctoral association, I don't know if you remember, but you guys were amazing for us. I do want to speak again to the post-doctoral situation, and that transient nature.

And the other piece, I think, is critical because I did, to a certain extent-- I've been teaching for the last 15 years science at community colleges. And that's where diversity lies, both GLBT, gender, race, national origin, language. And that transition-- I was talking to undergraduates at the University of Washington-- that invisibleness, that, they are afraid to say they're transfer students. And by and large, these are women and people of color. So just another thing to, kind of, put on the table, and think about.

But I welcome the effort to make that incredibly vulnerable and transient population post-docs more public. And I think starting organizations of women in post-docs is really important. But it takes institutional leadership to keep that going because they're very busy in transient group. Thank you.

BERTSCHINGER: Maybe I would just add here my thanks to Provost, Rafael Reif, for his efforts to assess the status of post-docs There's a survey that was completed recently about the post-doctoral experience, and a group of faculty are reviewing that, and will be examining possible recommendations we can make to improve the quality of life for post-docs.

The issues that you raise, and the broader issues of multiculturalism are incredibly important on campus. There's a lot of energy devoted to them, and perhaps in the later sessions we'll hear more about this at MIT and elsewhere.

AUDIENCE: Have you've tracked all the women from MIT, who have gotten their doctorates here, what they are doing? I know I spent seven years on this campus, only three semesters getting a master's. And my girlfriends, who got their doctorates in engineering, have had tremendous difficulties that I, as a lonely master's student, have never had. Just work-wise, where their standards were-- they're so focused on what they could do, and where they could go, whereas with a master's I felt I could go anywhere and do anything.

And the difference-- I also spent eight years at Stanford University-- is I felt that the Stanford graduates, my friends there, were not having the same struggles that the MIT women had. It may be anecdotal.

HOPKINS: Excuse me?

AUDIENCE: It may be just anecdotal, but-- I was at Stanford for eight years, and the women who got their doctorates there seem to be fairing much better than the women who got their doctorates from MIT. This is purely anecdotal. I'm comparing 10 women to 10 women. But I'm wondering if we are tracking-- with the women who have received a doctorate's, where they are, and what they're doing? And I'm 45 now, so that's the generation I'm in.

HOPKINS: Again, I think this is-- I remember, actually, Chuck Vest telling me, we've got to find out what happened to all those women who didn't stay around. And I couldn't figure out how to do that study. That seemed impossibly hard. But I think departments now do work very hard to try to find the answers to this. I don't have them, and they're certainly done on a national scale, too.

And I don't have the answers. I mean, Actually, I'm interested about what you say about Stanford. One thing we found is that when people are young they don't think there's a problem. They think it was solved in some previous generation. Different women encountered it at different ages. To some extent, I have a feeling the people who figure all this out early on, they're the ones who go. Those of us who couldn't see what was happening, we are the lucky ones, really. And we just kept on going, assuming there was no problem.

But many young people, I think, don't see the problem, you know, at the time it's happening. And this is part of what makes the process so slow. They don't think there's a problem, and so they think, oh, that was those old women and that old generation, you know, that won't happen to me. But I-- so I do agree. It's sort of anecdotal, and you really need to follow through. Because Stanford has also put a huge effort into addressing this problem for women in science and engineering, I think with very successful results, also.