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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Column: Now you see it …

Most people are familiar with the image of corporate America. An image of men in business suits in a very tall building comes to mind. We associate these images with wealth and status, which have always been very important societal values. Wall Street, Fortune 500 companies and other big business, and even many scientific fields all exhibit discrimination characteristic of the glass ceiling.

We don’t tend to think about it too often, but I pose the question: Why is it that when we think of wealth and status in regards to careers, women take the backseat? Although corporate businesses have admitted there is still a glass ceiling, you will find that the invisible ceiling is present in more than the corporate world, and science, renowned for prizing facts over bias, is no exception.

One may argue that the statistics for women look great right now. More women are attending college than men, and more of these women are moving forward to successful careers than ever before. The recession is finally starting to subside and females are moving into the working world. Women like Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo, and Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, have beat the odds, becoming two of the most powerful women, and two of the most powerful people, in the country. However, even though these women have become successful, the fact that there are only a handful of women in similar positions throughout the country is indicative of an ongoing problem.

A report recently came out from UCSD, examining professions in law, medicine, science and engineering. These fields were chosen based on two characteristics; they are traditionally male-dominated fields, and they contain some of the highest-paying jobs. It turns out that women only comprise 21 percent of the science and engineering fields and only 34 percent of medical doctors. In the field of law, the percentage seems a bit more promising at 45 percent, but of that percentage, only 15 percent are senior (equity) partners.

The report also examines the gender pay gap, taking into account work time, specialization and experience. Women earn at most 86 percent of what their male co-workers earn. For female surgeons and physicians, the percentage is 79 percent. Keep in mind this is just a pay gap between genders; it gets even uglier when delving into categories like race.

If you believe in equality at all, you will probably agree that this is not fair. If you are like many Americans, you will probably also shrug your shoulders and say there is nothing you can do about it. There is no such thing as a one-(wo)man army, but there is such a thing as combating apathy. Perhaps you are wondering why anyone should care; after all, the problem is swept under the rug so often, it has become a disappearing act.

While some discrimination is due to men in power preventing women from taking controlling roles in their fields, much of the remaining discrimination is due to innate cultural practices that have yet to conform to modern society. For example, in the last decade, women have gone from a major minority in receiving scientific degrees, to receiving a majority of all scientific degrees. However, despite the growing number of women in scientific fields, they are still dramatically underrepresented in the high-level positions of those fields.

At UC Davis, four out of the five nominees for the U.S. Presidential Awards are men, nine out of 13 members of the National Academy of Engineering are men and 19 out of 22 UC Davis members of the National Academy of Sciences are men.

Many factors are responsible for the way society has seemingly blocked women from high-level positions, but the main culprits are prejudice, leadership style demands and resistance to female leadership — the latter of which I can personally relate to. We may point the finger at the big bosses for these issues, but we really should be pointing fingers at ourselves. No matter how progressive the world is becoming compared to decades past, many people are still unaware of how they personally contribute to the perpetuation of social stereotypes.

A father and a son get into a car accident. The father escapes with cuts and bruises. but his son is badly injured and unconscious. The paramedics quickly rush him and his son to the hospital operating room, but when the surgeon sees the man’s son on the gurney, the surgeon stops and says, “I’m sorry, I cannot operate on this patient; he’s my son.” Figure out the riddle yet?

If it seems like nonsense, you just proved my point. The first step to making everything a level playing field is acknowledging that there is a problem, and it needs to be fixed. Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook summed it up pretty well: “The blunt truth is that men still run the world.”

The next step is to change; easier said than done. Changing hundreds of years of culturally ingrained stereotypes is no small feat. Only 50 years ago, African Americans were not allowed to vote or drink from the same water fountains as Caucasians. Only 60 years ago, women were expected to be baking in the kitchen in a homemade sundress while ironing their husbands’ shirts. Needless to say, we have a long way to go.

NICOLE NOGA says the answer is the Mom. She can be reached at science@theaggie.org.


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