“Women [in science and engineering] are doing really well,” said Frances Arnold ’79 in an episode of the University’s She Roars podcast (On the Campus, Dec. 5). This is demonstrably untrue: A National Academies study released in June said more than half of women in academia experience sexual harassment (#ScienceToo). And while women in some STEM fields are reaching parity in earning Ph.D.s, they remain greatly underrepresented among tenured faculty at only 15 to 30 percent and earn less than their male counterparts.
Also misleading were her next words: “Women are doing really well if they choose to do it.” These words gaslight working women and imply that we are to blame for existing disparities. Instead, it is more accurate to say that many women “choose” something else besides research because they do not see a way through to professional success, given the system in place. It was deeply disappointing to hear Nobel laureate Arnold make the choice to say so little to support other women in science.
By contrast, president emerita and biologist Shirley Tilghman spoke up clearly at the She Roars conference about the challenges we face. She talked about the impact of harassment on the careers of early-stage scholars. She pointed to institutional solutions to address the “mommy tax,” saying, “It’s about day care, stupid!” And she spoke powerfully about the lasting shadow of imposter syndrome, even for her. We need more scientists like her, who will speak accurately about the state of affairs so that we can finally achieve gender equity in science.