Engineering profs cite gender discrimination
Published: Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 03:05
“In my humble opinion, I think she has taken some things and blown them out of proportion,” he said. “I’m saddened it has been portrayed this way. We’ve treated women very well.”
Ogunnaike said there have been male faculty members in the past who “have done things they shouldn’t do,” and as a result they have faced consequences. But that is why Cook was brought in, he said, and there is a reason why he asked a woman, Kiick, to be his deputy dean.
“She didn’t want to. I pleaded with her, ‘I need you here,’” Ogunnaike said. “There’s a reason. And so, we’ve treated women well.”
A national issue
In 1999, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released a report conducted by its faculty members on the status of women faculty in its School of Science, which did not include the engineering department.
The MIT report examined faculty demographics, showing that in 1994, a year before the report committee assembled, there were 15 tenured faculty women at MIT, versus 194 men. In fact, women had remained approximately 8 percent of the faculty in the school of science from 1985 to 1994. Since the report came out, MIT has almost doubled its female faculty, from 32 to 60 women faculty members.
The MIT committee concluded that its female faculty were discriminated against, and that gender discrimination “turns out to take many forms and many of these are not simple to recognize.”
The report discovered that “many tenured women faculty feel marginalized and excluded from a significant role in their departments,” and MIT officials sought to fix in the problem. In 1994, there were 252 male faculty at MIT and 22 women. Five years later, the faculty consisted of 31 women and 235 men—a nearly 30 percent increase for women and 6 percent decrease for men.
The New York Times and the Boston Globe ran stories about the MIT report on their respective front pages and the data along with the press it received opened the national conversation about women’s
representation in science and engineering.
A 2006 follow-up paper by an MIT professor stated that the original report helped shape the ADVANCE program. Since the program started at the university in 2009, the engineering college has hired eight women faculty members, Cook said. There are also nine full female professors out of 74 total in the college, which constitutes 12 percent. According to the Society of Women Engineers, a nonprofit organization, the national average of full female engineering professors is 8.1 percent.
Many of the college’s professors argue that hiring women is no easy task because of a pipeline issue. Engineering is not a subject that lures in many female students at the high school and college levels, Cook said.
As of fall 2011, 20 percent of the college’s undergraduates were women. Engineering companies and policy groups, such as the NSF, tend to attract more graduates than academia, and so the hiring pool for professorship shrinks because fewer women seek out a graduate education. There is then increased competition from other universities and industry to hire those women with advanced degrees.
“For example, outreach to high schools—if you’re going to wait till [women are] in high school and then convince them, it’s too late,” Ogunnaike said of increasing the base of female engineering students.
Ogunnaike said there are certain incentives the university can match with most schools. But at a certain stratosphere of academia, it can be hard to compete over female professors against
the most elite engineering institutions.
“We are all pursuing the same small group of women. So everybody wants to improve the number of women that they have,” he said.
Ogunnaike is determined to improve the number of women faculty and the climate for women in the college. He would consider giving his position to his deputy dean, Kiick, should she be
contacted with offers from other schools.
“She is an incredibly accomplished woman. If Stanford shows up today and says, ‘I want to take her to become the next dean of the engineering college,’ I will gladly get up from my seat,” Ogunnaike said. “I will do whatever I can. But you get to a certain point where a place like Stanford, if they really want to do something to you, what are you going to do?”
As a black man who represents a minority in engineering, Ogunnaike still contends that accusations of gender discrimination do not match up with the college’s increased efforts to hire and retain women.
“How do we go out and seek and search to bring women and make sure that its part of what we do and then we’ll turn around and discriminate against women?” Ogunnaike said. “What sense does that make?”
Issues with retention
Azar Parvizi-Majidi came to the university in 1987 as a research assistant before joining the mechanical engineering faculty as an associate professor seven years later. Parvizi-Majidi said while she enjoyed her time teaching, quite a few female faculty left the college during her time there, and she soon realized that female faculty retention was a problem, particularly at more senior levels
Majidi said in her case, she can attribute her departure to one particular factor.
“Overall, I felt encouraged by the leadership at the university and college levels,” Majidi said. “However, I chose early retirement in 2005 because, while my interaction with most of my colleagues within the department was very positive, I had a somewhat discouraging experience with respect to promotion to the rank of full professor and did not feel that I received proper support or advice.”
Being discouraged from promotion is not exclusive to Majidi, Shine and Carberry.
Nily Dan, who joined the chemical engineering faculty in 1996, said she also did not feel any overt discrimination or mistreatment by her male colleagues because she was a woman.