Another problem for women is lack of access to mentors and networking opportunities. Women on science faculties report fewer referrals from collegial networks and thus fewer opportunities to consult, serve on science advisory boards, and interact with industry colleagues. Lacking ties to commercial science–and perhaps reluctant to “sell” their scientific discoveries–many choose to focus on pure science or teaching. The effects show up dramatically in patent data. A 2005 study of more than 1,000 recipients of training grants from the National Institutes of General Medical Sciences in cellular and molecular biology revealed that 30 percent of men–but only 14 percent of women–held at least one patent. A similar study of several thousand faculty members in the life sciences put the figures at 13 percent for men and only 5.65 percent for women, though there were no significant differences in publication patterns. In information technology, men constitute around 70 percent of the U.S. workforce yet earn 94 percent of U.S. patents.
If the percentage of patents awarded to women is far lower than the percentage of female scientists and engineers, it suggests that women’s contributions at the leading edge of their fields are not commensurate with their training. U.S. competitiveness suffers because fewer people are innovating–and because scientists without patents are more likely to leave the scientific workforce.
Stopping the Leak
Attracting and retaining women in science and high-tech entrepreneurship will require making the culture of science more family friendly.Both men and women must recognize that women who want families don’t have the luxury of waiting until they’ve established themselves professionally. What’s more, all scientists must realize that networking and commercialization are not “selling out”: they are integral to a productive career. Finally, women need equal access to laboratory space, startup funds, and professional networks. Here are some specific policy changes that would help keep women in science and technology:
■ Research funders should help pay for child and elder care.
Grant-making organizations should allow all applicants to allocate grant money toward care for family members, as the Clare Booth Luce Professorships currently do.
■ University programs in science and technology should include business training.
To become more entrepreneurial, scientists must understand what is involved in commercializing their technology, managing their labs, and marketing their ideas to venture capitalists. University departments must teach them marketing, finance, management, and other practical business skills.
■ Advisors should take a more active role in mentoring women.
Advisors to female graduate students should actively encourage them to undertake riskier projects and to assert themselves to sell their ideas. They should also help them gain entry into male-dominated networks.
■ Schools must actively embrace diversity.
Cultural and institutional biases still chill the climate for women in science. For example, the 1999 MIT report found an unequal distribution of resources between male and female faculty in laboratory space, salary supplements, startup packages, university funding, and even prize nominations. Schools need to recognize such biases and correct them (see “How MIT Is Fostering Diversity,” p. M18).
■ Expand the National Science Foundation’s Advance program.