Ms. magazine  -- more than a magazine a movement



feminist wire | daily newsbriefs


MIT Study Reveals Pervasive Sex Discrimination

A five-year study reveals that the female faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's School of Science face "pervasive, if unintentional" sex discrimination.

The report identified sex discrimination in hiring, in the allocation of laboratory space and research money, in the granting of awards and promotions, and in the membership of important committees. Discrimination was felt the strongest among senior-level women faculty, who were most likely to feel excluded and unappreciated my their peers and superiors.

As can be seen in the numbers below, the representation of women in the highest-ranking scholarly positions remains extremely poor, despite increases in the number of female undergraduate students.

Men Women
School of Science Faculty: 92% 8%
Biology undergraduates 142 147
Biology faculty 42 7
Math undergraduates 53 123
Math faculty 47 1

Physics professor and report contributor Jacqueline Hewitt noted that some types of discrimination experienced by female faculty were difficult to document. Hewitt explained, "These things, like how much of a voice you have in the decision-making process, are not so easily quantified."

The impetus for the discrimination study was brought in 1994 by three women faculty members who had shared their experiences with discrimination in discussions. The women made a proposal on how women's status could be improved at M.I.T. and submitted that plan to Dean Robert J. Birgen, who approved it. For the next five years, the women collected the data that appears in the current report.

The full report was published on the Web last Friday along with comments prepared by M.I.T. President Charles M. Vest. Female faculty members who were involved in the study praised Vest and other school officials for being forthcoming about M.I.T.'s problems with sex discrimination. Molecular biologist Nancy Hopkins, who helped to initiate the discrimination study, said that M.I.T. comments "are the most forward-looking statements on gender discrimination that I've read by a high-ranking administrator in one of these elite institutions in the 25 years I've been a faculty member."

The report concluded with several recommendations to help raise the status of women faculty as M.I.T. Study authors recommended that administrators who are found to knowingly discriminate against women be fired, and that "equity data" be gathered annually to measure the school's progress.

In a meeting Monday, M.I.T. officials and faculty members also urged the expansion of the report to other schools within the M.I.T. system. "The challenge now," said Hopkins, "is what can you do so that this wonderful thing that has happened can become automatic and institutionalized?"

Media Resources: MIT Report and New York Times - March 23, 1999

© Feminist Majority Foundation, publisher of Ms. magazine

If you liked this story, consider making a tax-deductible donation to support Ms. magazine.



Send to a Friend

More Feminist News

8/28/2015 Alaska Court Protects Abortion Access for Low-Income Women - The Alaska Superior Court struck down a state law yesterday that would have severely limited abortion access for low-income women in Alaska. The state's Superior Court also struck down a Department of Health and Social Services regulation that placed narrow specifications on Medicaid coverage for abortions, requiring that Medicaid-funded abortions be determined by a physician to be "medically necessary." Last year, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Planned Parenthood sued on behalf of the Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, claiming that the narrow definition of "medically necessary" arbitrarily established conditions designed to restrict the ability of low-income women to access abortion services. The law was temporarily blocked last July by an Alaskan state court judge. Superior Court Judge John Suddock ordered yesterday that the state be blocked from implementing this regulation, ruling that it placed an undue burden on low-income women seeking abortion services in Alaska. "By providing health care to all poor Alaskans except women who need abortions, the challenged regulation violates the state constitutional guarantee of 'equal rights, opportunities, and protection under the law'," the ruling read. "We applaud the superior court for striing down these cruel restrictions on women's health and rights that violate the Alaska Constitution," said Chris Charbonneau, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands. . . .
8/27/2015 Los Angeles Mayor Announces Model Gender Equity Directive - On Women's Equality Day Eric Garcetti, the Mayor of Los Angeles, signed a progressive and inclusive executive directive to take a major step toward gender equity for the city and to be a model for other cities. . . .
8/26/2015 Saudi Women Prepare to Vote for the First Time - The fight for gender equality is making slow but notable progress in Saudi Arabia, where women will be allowed to vote for the first time in upcoming December elections. This shift in Saudi law came in 2011, when a royal decree announced that women would be allowed to vote and run in local elections beginning in December of 2015. . . .