MIT Reform Brings Progress to Women in Academia, Highlights Societal Stereotypes

The New York Times recently published an article that raised the issue of women in academia, and how MIT has led the charge for increased female representation. The article highlights the progress, but it also calls attention to some unintended consequences that still negatively affect women.

But with the emphasis on eliminating bias, women now say the assumption when they win important prizes or positions is that they did so because of their gender. Professors say that female undergraduates ask them how to answer male classmates who tell them they got into M.I.T. only because of affirmative action.

Research conducted at MIT in the 1990s showed the extreme disparities between female and male professors teaching at the university, and illustrated need for change. Reforms were made, and the result was a dramatic increase in female opportunities at MIT.

More women are in critical decision-making positions at M.I.T. — there is a female president, and women who are deans and department heads. Inequities in salaries, resources, lab space and teaching loads have largely been eliminated.

With this dramatic growth in women’s representation came unintended consequences. Women are still called to panels to discuss work-life balance; something that is rarely asked of male colleagues. Also, women are faced with others believing that they were hired to promote gender diversity rather than on the basis of their work or accomplishments. But some at MIT dispute this:

“No one is getting tenure for diversity reasons, because the women themselves feel so strongly that the standards have to be maintained,” Professor Kastner said. Faculty members said that the perception otherwise would change as more women were hired and the quality of their achievement became obvious.

We admire MIT for leading the charge in promoting women in academia, especially in traditionally male-dominated fields, though it is unfortunate that this progress is overshadowed by pervasive stereotypes of professional women.

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