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Many scientists and engineers would like to assume that they are unbiased, but an analysis of how merit is judged in the world of science and engineering points to a different result. Several studies have demonstrated that, although the selection of faculty, the hiring and promotion of scientists and engineers in workplaces, and the distribution of grants and awards are all supposed to be based on objective criteria, applied to everyone in the same manner, bias and prejudice intervene at every stage. (Of course bias and prejudice affect careers in other fields too, but the focus here is on science and engineering, domains where women are still severely underrepresented.) In recent discussions of how bias and prejudice can affect career prospects, “diversity” has become a widely used term, although it often goes undefined. Simply put, it refers to those characteristics that make people different from each other, including gender, race, age, ethnic and cultural background, sexual orientation, ability or disability, religion, education, class, marital status or family status, and indeed any other characteristic that shapes an individual’s attitudes, behaviour, Chapte r 1 2 R Women in Scientific and Engineering Workplaces 0014_Frize_5x8_B_v09_16_11_2009.indd 197 16/11/09 6:19 PM 198 THE BOLD AND THE BRAVE and perspectives. Respect for diversity means, then, respect for differences among individuals and awareness of how these differences can be involved in interactions between identifiable groups. It also means that when different rules, criteria, or standards are applied to different groups or individuals, in the form of double standards, this can create discrimination. In dictionaries, “discrimination” is defined, simply and neutrally, as the action of discerning or distinguishing things or people from other things or other people. It is important to note that discrimination can sometimes be positive. For example, providing maternity leave for women expecting babies recognizes the physiological difference between pregnant women and others, and responds to their needs. Paternity leave can also be provided, to enable fathers to share parenting responsibilities once the baby has been born. Another example of positive discrimination is the establishment of means to “level the playing field,” as with outreach activities that expose girls and young women to potential careers in fields where women are underrepresented. Hiring women as role models for such activities is also an example of a time-limited form of positive discrimination implemented in order to correct a serious imbalance. Yet another example might be the application of special measures to increase the numbers of men preparing for and entering careers in nursing and other fields of health care. More often, however, discrimination is negative, concerned with excluding members of different groups from a profession or an institution rather than including them. It has come to be associated with the much more harmful practice of segregation. As we have seen in previous chapters, stereotypes often shape perceptions and can have a major impact on the career progress and success of women and members of other underrepresented groups. We can assume that, in some cases, this happens unconsciously, especially where members of selection and award committees have not been trained to recognize subtle biases or prejudices. However, 0014_Frize_5x8_B_v09_16_11_2009.indd 198 16/11/09 6:19 PM Women in Scientific and Engineering Workplaces 199 when negative discrimination, in a place of employment or elsewhere, results from pervasive, interrelated actions, policies, or procedures, it becomes appropriate to regard it as systemic discrimination rather than merely a question of certain individuals’ unexamined prejudices. The examples discussed in this chapter reflect the ways in which bias and double standards can be applied in a variety of situations and environments. The Myth of Meritocracy in Academia Margaret Rossiter (1982) describes how women entered science in large numbers in the 1920s and 1930s, did important work as individuals, and even worked on major projects, yet rarely won awards or held office in professional associations. They also had low visibility: women were underrepresented in the higher ranks of academia and the professions and had no prestige. Prize and selection committees passed over outstanding women, either ignoring their work or attributing it to others. For example, even after the Rockefeller Foundation created and funded postdoctoral fellowships that supported thousands of scientists and scholars, in the United States and in other countries, few went to women (see Rossiter 1982, pp. 269–71). Between 1920 and 1938 in the United States, where the fellowships were allocated by the National Research Council, 395 women obtained PhDs in zoology, but only fourteen of them, or...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780776618845
Related ISBN
9780776607252
MARC Record
OCLC
864851766
Pages
366
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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