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Anita Hill argues that for Title IX to keep creating more equal opportunities for women, federal funding and academic support needs to be brought to bear on the problem of women in STEM.
Last month, two senior cell biologists at the prestigious Salk Institute brought a lawsuit against their employer for systematic pay discrimination and for condoning an “old boys club” culture that marginalized female scientists. These days, charges of pay disparities and even gender-hostile work environments are unsurprising; media accounts of both are ubiquitous. What’s so deeply troubling, though, about the charges against Salk is that they come at a time when the number of women graduating with STEM is growing. This year, women earned more than half of the 13,000 doctorate degrees awarded in life sciences alone–the latest evidence that Title IX, the 1972 law which promised equal educational opportunities for women, is creating an upward trend.
As research, lawsuits and personal anecdotes mount, it’s apparent that the increase in numbers of women in STEM has not resulted in greater equality in careers. Even more disturbing is that the disparities and hostilities many female career scientists encounter are continuations of circumstances that began when they were students. In short, Title IX cannot be viewed in isolation from its impact on women as they continue in the professions.
To ensure women’s ability to reach their full potential in STEM fields, academic institutions and research funding sources, as well as national professional associations, must smooth pathways that are currently riddled with inequities.
More inclusion makes for better science. To get there, female scientists like the Salk cell biologists will and should continue to sue to enforce their right to equal pay and bias-free work environments. But universities, their funders, and the professional organizations whose approval they seek must begin by addressing discrimination early in career paths. The better science that we all deserve demands that we address discrimination in schools.
Anita Hill, a noted leader in combating discrimination, is Of Counsel to the Civil Rights & Employment practice at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, a leading, national plaintiffs’ law firm, and a professor of social policy, law, and women’s studies at Brandeis University.
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