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Friday, Aug. 22, 2014

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Princeton signs pledge on gender equality

members and administrators from Princeton joined counterparts from eight other research universities Jan. 29 for a workshop aimed at ensuring equal treatment for women in science and engineering.

Participants in the workshop, held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, issued a unanimous statement acknowledging the existence of inequities for women scientists and pledging to develop ways to eliminate gender bias.

"Institutions of higher education have an obligation, both to themselves and for the nation, to fully develop and utilize all the creative talent available," the statement noted. "We recognize that barriers still exist to the full participation of women in science and engineering."

The university leaders pledged to work toward three goals:

- A faculty whose diversity reflects that of the students they educate.

- Equity and full participation by women faculty regarding issues such as compensation and distribution of resources.

- A work environment in which individuals with family responsibilities are not disadvantaged.

In each of these areas, the universities promised to gather, analyze and share data. The group expects to meet again to review progress toward those goals.

Participating institutions were Princeton, MIT, the California Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Stanford University, the University of California - Berkeley, the University of Michigan, the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University.

"This pledge reinforces our commitment to finding new ways to ensure that we create an environment that is every bit as supportive, productive and inspiring for women as it is for men," said Princeton President Harold T. Shapiro.

The workshop was inspired by a 1999 report by three women faculty members at MIT who showed patterns of gender bias toward women scientists.

Princeton Dean of the Faculty Joseph Taylor said he has not heard similar complaints at Princeton, but noted that if there is a single message from the workshop it is that University administrators sincerely want to hear concerns from women faculty members.

Taylor added that the biggest problem at Princeton is one of pure numbers. "As is true at many research universities, we have not been able to attract as many women as we would like to serve in the areas of science and engineering."

The meeting focused on science and engineering, Taylor said, because women are much more heavily underrepresented in those fields than the humanities. Princeton's concern, he noted, is not limited to those disciplines. "We have equal concerns with any group in our faculty," he said.

Princeton conducted an internal review of faculty salaries in 1998-99 and did not find evidence of gender bias. When level of experience was taken into account (as measured by number of years since earning a Ph.D. and number of years on the Princeton faculty), there was no statistically significant difference between the salaries of men and women. Another study showed that there was no significant difference in the rate at which men and women junior faculty members are granted tenure, Taylor said.

Taylor noted that one immediate result from the meeting will be an initiative by Princeton to make information more widely available as it is gathered.

The statement signed by the university leaders concluded, "We recognize that this challenge will require significant review of, and potentially significant change in, the procedures within each university, and the scientific and engineering establishment as a whole. We will reconvene to share the specific initiatives we have undertaken to achieve these objectives."

In addition to Shapiro and Taylor, participants at the meeting from Princeton were Professor of Psychology Joan Girgus, Professor of Electrical Engineering Ruby Lee and Professor of Molecular Biology Shirley Tilghman.

Further details on the workshop and the unanimously endorsed statement are available at http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/nr/2001/gender.html

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