In order to overcome subtle forms of discrimination, women entering male-dominated scientific fields must learn to compete the way men do, a Medical School scientist told a women's group last night in Emerson Hall.
Addressing an audience of 25 in a speech sponsored by the Women in Science organization, Med School biochemist Linda Brink said that sexism is a fact of life in medical, scientific, and hi-tech careers.
Brink urged aspiring women scientists to break into the "old boy network" by finding someone to serve as their mentor and by getting involved in the social activities of their co-workers.
"You can't do untraditional things and expect the traditional career people to promote you," said Brink, who is also on the staff of the Graduate School of Education.
Brink warned that starting a family early could interfere with women's careers.
Citing the low percentage of women at the Medical School, Brink said that women are on a sharply unequal footing.
"In 1977, we the medical students never saw female professors, because at the time, out of a faculty of 300 full professors, only seven were women," she said.
Today, only about 20 percent of Harvard medical students are women, and their numbers have been declining in recent years, she said.
Brink attributed the dominance of men in scientific fields to deep-seated social factors. Although studies have shown that males and females have equal aptitudes in math and science at the elementary school level, females tend to shy away from sciences and related studies because they are given less encouragement in those directions.
Often, teachers have lower expectations for girls in the area of science. Parents are generally more willing to send boys to computer camp than girls--only 8 percent of the children at computer camps are female--and professors are frequently reluctant to act as mentors to young women, Brink said.
At the graduate level, men tend to exclude their female counterparts from social meetings, and women act with less self-confidence, she said.
Despite the obstacles in their path, Brink said, women should not be deterred from careers in science. "Science and the joy of science always, always overcome the difficulties. I don't want women to be alarmed at the existence of sexism in the scientific community. I just want them to be aware."
At least one student in the audience challenged Brink's premise, however. She said that her experience in the Mathematics Department contradicted the picture of sexism, adding that graduate students and instructors had always given her support.