Author Eileen Pollack wrote an article in the New York Times entitled Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science? a little while ago highlighting the lack of women physicists in the US. Pollack takes the effort to interview many female students at the undergraduate and graduate level as well as faculty members, giving us a profound look at the problems plaguing female retention in the physical sciences. She also presents us with statistics and salary numbers to further back up her claim, supplanting the personal anecdotes with a concreteness that make the article both readable and illuminating. That she was one of the first two women to be granted an undergraduate degree in physics at Yale University gives her a personal knowledge of the issues at hand.
She claims that the reason for the dearth of women in the physical sciences is largely cultural. When one writes as well as she does, this viewpoint is difficult to argue against. There is ample evidence backing up her claim, most notably that other countries, such as Spain and France, do not have such low ratios of female to male physicists. She goes on to discuss the perception of women in the US as somehow lacking femininity if they decide to pursue the physical sciences. The problem that is perhaps the most difficult to address are the tacit slights aimed at female students from their male counterparts. When students gather to solve homework problems together, women’s voices are given less weight and are often disregarded. Though this is not quantifiable, I have seen this happen many times and perhaps have even been guilty of it myself. The consequences of these attitudes are that they chip away at the confidence levels and ultimately dissuade women from pursuing higher degrees in physics.
One of the most startling pieces of information in this article is that women are also guilty of this discrimination. For instance, a woman faculty member will be more likely to recommend a male for hire than a woman with almost identical qualifications. Even if the woman is recommended, her salary is usually reduced compared to male counterparts by about $4,000.
Though I could go on, let me stop my blather here and link you again to the original article, as I cannot do it complete justice. I should also mention that the author is coming out with a book on this very topic in September 2015, which I look very forward to reading.