Perspectives on Gender and Knowledge Production in America
Edited by Ann Mari May
Chapter 5: Women in Science – and Elsewhere
5. Women in science—and elsewhere1 Virginia Valian Why are there so few women in science, especially at the top? Hold on a minute. Is that the right question? That phrasing implies that science is diﬀerent from other ﬁelds. But is it? In one way, science does diﬀer from other ﬁelds. A smaller percentage of women get advanced degrees in most of the natural sciences (though not biology) than in most of the social sciences, the humanities, medicine, law, business, or nursing. But in another way, science is the same as other professions: women make less money and advance through the ranks more slowly—not just in the natural sciences but in every profession (see Valian 1998; 2005a; 2005b), including nursing (Robinson and Mee 2004). The ubiquity of women’s under-representation at the top gives us important information about where to look to understand women’s underrepresentation in science. We need to look below the surface of any particular ﬁeld to understand how we evaluate people in professional settings, and we need to understand which features of organizations give men more opportunities to be successful. We have two questions to answer. First, why do so few women reach the top, even in ﬁelds like nursing and restaurant cooking, and second, why are women consistently under-represented in most of the natural sciences? I will provide the same explanation for both problems—a combination of gender schemas and the accumulation of advantage. But let’s eliminate two other possible reasons ﬁrst. One reason...
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