CC Boasts Gender Diversity in Some, But Not All, Science Departments

In an homage to International Women’s Day on March 8, Elsevier, a major academic publisher, released a study detailing women’s progress in scientific fields over the last 20 years. The conclusion was that men still dominate science. However, that majority is dwindling.

So, how does Colorado College compare? From 2011 to 2015, 55 percent of graduating science majors were women. However, looking at each department individually, some still lack equal gender representation. 

Physics stands out as the most male-dominated field. From 2011 to 2015, less than 18 percent of graduating physics majors were female. The class of 2017 isn’t bucking any trends. Of nine senior physics majors, only two—Barbora Hanzalova and Zoe Pierrat—are women.

“You definitely notice when you are the only girl in class, and the faculty can only do so much to help,” said Pierrat, who also juggles an environmental science emphasis and a chemistry minor. “It’s also challenging to look at the grades above you and not see any female role models who you identify with and that have been through the department.”

Pierrat pointed to the Physics department tea time as a good start towards building community between female majors. She also credited the Physics department for hiring a diverse staff; four of the seven full-time faculty members are women. Still, Pierrat hopes to see more. “I think we can do more to include everyone,” she said.

When emailed about whether there are any active measures to recruit female students to the Physics department, the department chairs—Professors Dick Hilt and Shane Burns—offered no response.

The chemistry major had the next lowest percentage of female majors. However, the chemistry major is incorporated within the Chemistry and Biochemistry department. Combined, the department has 54 males versus 39 female graduates (approximately 42 percent female). The department also has a female-majority faculty.

“The department currently has 9 full-time tenure and tenure track faculty positions. Of these positions, three are filled by male faculty and six are filled by female faculty,” said head of the Chemistry and Biochemistry department Murphy Brasuel.

The computer science major was another major dominated by male graduates. Similar to chemistry, though, the computer science major is incorporated into the Math and Computer Science department. Combined, from 2011-2015, the Math and Computer Science department graduated 42 males and 45 female majors.

Besides those particular majors, many science majors have a fairly equal ratio of male to female majors. In fact, in both biology tracks (organismal biology and ecology and molecular biology), psychology, and math, the total of graduating majors has been about 60 percent female.   

In many cases, however, lack of gender diversity becomes more pronounced after one’s undergraduate career.

The “leaky pipeline” is a term for the phenomenon of women dropping out of scientific careers at higher rates than men. A lack of female role models and childrearing are proposed causes to this phenomenon. Regardless of the cause, it seems the lack of gender diversity at higher ranks of the scientific ladder only make it more difficult for women in science.

Gabriella Rossetto, a CC graduate with a degree in geology, works at the Denver Museum of Natural Sciences and will soon be pursuing her master’s at Pennsylvania State University in geosciences, specializing in paleobotany.

“At CC, I never had any issue with gender, but I did appreciate the other women majors and that we had an academic environment that was generally open to collaboration and supportive of one another that was, in my opinion, pretty blind to gender,” Rossetto said. “I may have noticed the slight imbalance of male to female professors, but never lacked role models.”

“In the real world, in other departments outside of CC, I now realize the gender issues in science and in my field, and it seems worse,” she continued. “For me it seems harder being a woman in science because the ‘good old boys’ culture, for example in paleontology, is still very much prevalent.”

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