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Are women still considered a minority (USA)?

  1. Mar 7, 2013 #1
    I'm curious:

    Do most people (personal, industry, academia) still consider women a minority in physics?

    I was looking up a requirement for a fellowship which was specifically for minorities, and it got me thinking about this question.

    Personally, it seems like being female and majoring/working in physics or engineering (even computer science) is not completely rare, but overall numbers are still low.

    Anyone else have any thoughts on this?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 7, 2013 #2
    In the eyes of the NSF, women are underrepresented in STEM fields.
  4. Mar 7, 2013 #3
    Pick a university with a large physics department, and look up their faculty. Count the women.
  5. Mar 8, 2013 #4


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    While there aren't as many women as men in tenure-track or tenured positions, chances are good you do not count as a minority for scholarships. Scholarships usually specify 'minority or women' if women count as minorities for them.
  6. Mar 9, 2013 #5
    Of the engineers I know, about 10 to 15% are women.

    I don't know why this is.
  7. Mar 9, 2013 #6
    My cohort is about 50-50 boys and girls, but out of the graduating candidates this year it's 4 guys and 1 girl (who happens to top all the boys except one grade-wise but not by much).

    I don't how true this is, but it is often said that women are more easily discouraged from competitive fields like science academia and certain cutthroat jobs, typically setting lower standards for themselves. I've heard fears of "not being smart enough for X" out of the mouths of more girls than guys, I don't hear guys worrying about that but I suspect some just play macho and don't talk about their insecurities.

    Some graduate schools in the US and Europe as well as summer research programs, as far as I've seen, strongly encourage women and minorities to apply and there exist several programs and scholarships specifically for women in science. The establishment at least at face-value seems to be pretty women-friendly, but I have encountered a pretty openly sexist academic (a tenured old dinosaur who no one listens to anymore though, and I do live in a traditionally sexist country, but he was the dean of the faculty for quite some time).
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2013
  8. Mar 9, 2013 #7
    I think it's a subject men are more interested in than women. And I don't see why there's scholarships for minorities in a field. That's unfair to someone like me who happens to fall into the majority. "Hey, you like physics? And you're poor? Great, we have this scholarsh... oh you're a man? Nevermind."
    Makes no sense.
  9. Mar 9, 2013 #8
    Scholarships for people in low income brackets are never a bad thing provided they keep acceptable performance. This is how I've been able to fund my education, I wouldn't be able to pay for it otherwise living with a widowed parent on a pension.

    I don't see anything wrong with scholarships for minorities or women if they're not funded with public money. A private entity can give money to whoever they want, but I don't think it's fair if governments give discriminate for scholarships based on gender or race. It's not the case for public grants in my country afaik and I'd be surprised if it was in the US.
  10. Mar 9, 2013 #9
    True, they can do whatever they want with their money, I just don't see the point of trying to get more women in physics or more men in nursing or more whatever in whatever.
  11. Mar 9, 2013 #10


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    In our last year of undergrad, my friend, who is male, noticed that one of the Scholarships for Women in Science did not specify that applicants had to be female. We both decided to try applying, and he got the scholarship. (It wasn't a lot of money, but it was still funny to us that he won it). (Note: I am not female)

    Maybe you should try applying to some too?

    Because diversity is generally a good thing to have in these fields. Furthermore, the problem isn't just that "minorities" aren't interested enough in these fields. There are already "minorities" that have some interest in these fields, but when the fields are saturated with a certain group, e.g., old white middle to upper class males, it's harder for other groups to get into those fields. Especially so if the attitudes of the 'privileged' group are not charitable towards non-privileged groups. So, programs spring up to help encourage and support the 'non-privileged' groups in going into these fields.

    Also, regarding unfairness to people in the majority: If you are really in the majority, you already possess several advantages that 'minorities' don't. Without these encouragement problems, the system is unfair to 'minorities'. Ideally, the point of the programs is to try and balance these advantages out. It's not perfect, of course, but it's arguably better than letting a field maintain a homogeneous set of members.

    I remember the frustration at not being eligible for this or that scholarship because I was a white middle class male who didn't play the bagpipes, but things have worked out pretty well for me so far, and I'd say that's in part because I started off with all the advantages that being a middle class white male statistically entails. (It was also because I work my butt off). I'd like to think I worked as hard as I did regardless of my white-male advantage in life, but is that true of a lot of the majority? I don't know, but I suspect that if the white-male advantage is reduced, it will encourage us all to work harder for what we want. Thus, I think it's entirely in society's interests to encourage a more heterogeneous mix of people in science and other fields.


    That said, this thread seems to be veering a little bit off the original track, so perhaps this discussion should either be continued in a separate thread? Or, if the original question has been answered to d3nat's satisfaction, perhaps the thread should be closed, lest it degenerate into pointless (and possibly bigoted) arguments like that recent thread about black scientists in North American universities.
  12. Mar 9, 2013 #11
    I realize the accepted norm is that a statement like that doesn't require elaboration, but in this case I think it needs some.
    If a minority excels in school, what's stopping them from joining the field? Discrimination? If you can prove that, then that's a lawsuit. And it should be easy to prove if someone with the credentials is getting passed over in favor of someone in the "majority" who has the same or lesser credentials.

    I think it has everything to do with interest.
    Such as? I'm a white male physics major struggling with the curriculum. I need to know of those advantages so I can start doing better, because I'm clueless as to what they are.
  13. Mar 9, 2013 #12
    As one of countless examples, whites tend to be wealthier and to live in communities with better access to quality education and healthcare. No one cares if you, personally, didn't enjoy these advantages; whites, as a demographic, tend to enjoy them to a greater extent that non-whites.

    The notion that anyone who isn't white has any rights at all is a fairly recent invention in American history. Many minorities were expelled from education and politics for centuries, effectively forcing entire demographics into poverty. Now you want to turn around and say "Sorry about all that. You're on your own now", but it doesn't work that way; when you've been locked out of public life for most of your history, it takes a great deal of work to reintegrate you.
  14. Mar 9, 2013 #13
    I want to do this, but I feel a little guilty.
  15. Mar 10, 2013 #14


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    Look up white and male privilege. On the whole white males hold more wealth, are over represented in advanced positions and politics, are less likely to be victims of certain types of crime, are less likely to be victimised because of their gender/race etc. As an individual you could have it harder than anyone else (though I doubt it given that your worry is that you are struggling with a degree course rather than anything more serious) but as a demographic it is more beneficial in western society to be a white male.
  16. Mar 10, 2013 #15
    1) He was talking about me being IN the majority, so he was talking specifically about me.
    2) We're talking about professions, and white males aren't the majority in all of them.
    3) I care.
    So women aren't becoming physicists because they're effectively poorer than white men? There's more women in college than men.
    I don't worry about anything else because I'm wise with money. I only have a part time job, but I live on my own, pay all my bills, and have about 20k saved up. I'm not in this position because I'm a white male. I've worked for everything I have. I'm working at UPS (anyone can get that job) and whites aren't even the majority.

    But again, we're talking about professions. I heard there were scholarships for men to get into nursing simply because they're a minority in that field. That's the issue I have. Personally, I prefer having a female nurse in the hospital, but aside from that, I don't see the reason why we need minorities (including white men, in some professions) to get into professions they might not normally join, simply because there's "not enough of them."
  17. Mar 10, 2013 #16


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    One of my favourite quotes from the novelisation of what is probably my favourite British comedy, Yes Minister, goes as follows (slight paraphrasing):

    "Women (are) not (a) minority group, even though they share the same paranoia which is the hallmark of any minority group."

    Not saying I agree, just that I found it highly insightful (and quite funny).
  18. Mar 10, 2013 #17


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    North America is a heterogeneous, multicultural society. The past century has witnessed numerous groups fight for equality, and although the fight is not yet entirely over, we, as a society, have overall decided that equality and fairness are core values that we should embrace. However, this is a relatively new attitude, and several institutions have been around for much longer, to the extent that they are still populated by members of the privileged ethnicity/class/gender/etc. So, in order to help balance things out, some people have decided to encourage and support minorities going into these still quite homogeneous jobs/fields. I think it's a good thing beyond just deciding that equality should be a core value. The problem with a homogeneous group is that they tend to have had similar experiences and upbringings, and so tend to have similar thoughts and approaches to situations. In a very creative field like science, I think it's a bad thing to have a relatively narrow range of creativity. Having many different perspectives from people with many different backgrounds is good for coming up with new, creative approaches to problems, so I think that diversity is definitely something we want in science.

    History. Our whole society to date has been set up in a way that makes it more difficult for members of the 'minority' to succeed, compared to members of the majority. The problem isn't even necessarily active discrimination (which I think it's harder in practice to prove discrimination than you think). I think passive discrimination is a much bigger problem, because even well-meaning people don't realize they're being discriminatory in some way. For example, it can be very hard for an "outsider" to fit in with a homogeneous majority group different than the outsider's. Even if the majority group is trying to be inclusive to the outsider, there are many ways in which cultural misunderstandings can easily alienate the outsider. Furthermore, just as easy as it would be for a 'minority person' to claim discrimination if they were passed over for the job, if an excelling minority individual kept rising through the ranks at their company, it's just as easy for the homogeneous group members to believe the 'outsider' is being treated specially because they are a minority, which can lead to resentment among the majority members. If the environment is not hospitable to a 'minority' individual, even just due to "benign" ignorance on the part of the otherwise well-meaning majority group, it raises barriers for even talented minorities to succeed in these fields. This is why we need programs to help bring down these barriers and form a more-inclusive society.

    That's exactly the problem: most white males are clueless as to the advantages they have because those advantages are basically there by default, so you don't even notice them.

    For example, are most physics majors in your program also white males? Do any of them work together on homework problems? How easy is/was it for white males in your program to make friends? When there's lots of people who look like you and share your cultural background, the barriers to talking to them and getting to know them are much less than if you're the lone outsider trying to make friends. But unless we've ever tried to fit in with a group unlike ourselves, we often don't realize how difficult it can be for an outsider trying to fit in with our group.

    We were mostly kind of interested in finding out if they really would give the scholarship to a male. We figured at the time that if they wanted to give the scholarship to a woman, they would. I certainly hope they weren't forced to give the scholarship to my friend when they had a qualified female applicant they could have awarded it to.

    I was also making probabilistic statements, though. While I don't know personal things about you, I was saying that if you were in the majority, it is statistically likely that you have enjoyed several advantages of being a white male, even if you haven't been aware of it, for aforementioned reasons.

    So since there's more women in college than men, why aren't more of them in physics?

    What about people who would prefer to have a male nurse available? Are they not reason enough to encourage more males to go into nursing?

    While it's possible that you may indeed have worked for everything you have now and did not get to enjoy white male privilege, to be honest, your arguments sound exactly like the sort of thing that someone in a privileged group would be arguing when someone else is trying to chip away at their privilege. This is, in essence, the problem of having a privileged group in society. A privileged individual thinks things are fine the way they are because society already favors them, and they don't want that taken away. Even a well-meaning privileged individual can be blind to the plight of the unprivileged. This is only an attitude one can afford so long as their privileged group remains on top. The ways things are going with Asia's current economic group and the Western world's continued economic difficulties, white upper class males may not be the privileged group for much longer. If and when that day comes, perhaps all of us will have a better appreciation for the struggles non-white males have endured in the recent decades.
  19. Mar 10, 2013 #18
    So for example women may be raised differently from men; therefore, they might think differently and provide new insight in science? I really don't see how that difference in upbringing would cause a difference in scientific thought, but I guess it's worth a shot.
    A valid argument.
    Most of the physics majors are white men, but I haven't noticed any inclination among them to associate specifically with other white men. Just from observing, it looks like the ratio of majority students who associate and work in groups is the same as the ratio of minority students who work in groups. I can't really comment on that beyond observation though, and it's only a small sample. It just seems to me that, in the physics classrooms, the people are already similar in personality and interests.
    Women have different interests than men. Are you implying there's a financial barrier?
    I think people should go into a field they want to go into because they enjoy it, not because they get free money to do it. I don't want a nurse who doesn't enjoy his job taking care of me.
    I do manual labor for a living, so I talk to "underprivileged" people every day. They all have the ability to get an apartment, go to school, save money, and do everything I did. Every situation in their lives that prevents them from doing so are their own fault. If something in their lives has prevented them from doing this simply because they're of an "underprivileged" group, I haven't heard of it.
    It's easy for people to tell me they got pulled over because they're black, or they were not promoted because they're a woman, or this or that happened because of this or that reason. I even hear the white people at my job complain that whites aren't treated as well as the blacks are (most of the management is black. So much so that I could probably get some changes made with some phone calls), but I don't really see much evidence of it. Evidence needs to be provided. Most of the management being black isn't proof black employees are treated better, and the history of women and non-white men being treated worse than white men isn't proof that it's an issue in every aspect of our lives today.
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