Barnard Center for Research on Women Advance at the Earth Institute at Columbia University
December 9-10, 2004
Women, Work and the Academy: Strategies for Responding to 'Post-Civil Rights Era' Gender Discrimination
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Women, Work and the Academy > Video


Panel Discussion with Nancy Hopkins, Claude Steele, and Virginia Valian

In the Viginia Gildersleeve panel on "Women, Work, and the Academy" (December 9, 2004), Nancy Hopkins, Claude Steele, and Virginia Valian outline our best current understanding of the status of women and minority scholars in academia and describe some of the most promising interventions undertaken to change these conditions. The inspiration for this panel and for the conference that followed (click here for the program) is a growing body of work that focuses attention on conditions that persistently reproduce inequalities in the representation and recognition of women and minority scholars in most senior ranks of the academy, even as their numbers improve in the training pipeline in virtually all fields.

In the context of this panel discussion, Nancy Hopkins describes the process by which a number of senior women scientists at MIT came to see patterns of gender inequity in support and recognition that each had assumed to be localized, idiosyncratic difficulties. The analysis they presented in the 1999 report on "The Status of Women Faculty in Science at MIT" drew immediate and wide attention; it captured, in especially salient terms, the key insight that what keeps women and minority scholars on the margins is often not overt, deliberate discrimination but the cumulative effects of small-scale, often unintended and unrecognized differences in uptake and response.

The central challenge we face, in counteracting what the authors of the MIT report describe as post-Civil Rights era discrimination, is to understand and change these patterns of cumulative disadvantage. Claude Steel has done pivotal work on just this nexus of problems; in his panel presentation he extends his analysis of how stereotype threat in academic testing to a wide range of environments and conditions in which the mobilization of stereotypes affects performance, and he describes some of the strategies for defusing stereotype threat that he has been instrumental in developing for educational contexts. Virginia Valian draws together the results of several traditions of psychological research that document the myriad ways in which we learn and enact gender schemas, often without realizing that we do this or, indeed, while firmly believing that we have repudiated gender-conventional assumptions—that they do not influence our perceptions of others and our responses to them. For purposes of the panel discussion she considers some striking results of research on the gender dynamics of leadership in academic and professional contexts.

Nancy Hopkins is the Amgen, Inc. Professor of Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is well known as a scientist for her innovative use of large-scale forward genetic screens in research designed to identify the genetic basis of developmental processes in zebrafish. For more information about her research interests, see her website: Outside the biological research community Hopkins is probably best known as the architect of the 1999 Study on the Status of Women Faculty in Science at MIT. She continues to lead efforts to realize institutional change for women in science at MIT and she plays a pivotal role catalyzing initiatives to improve the training, employment, retention, and recognition of women in the sciences on a national scale. The MIT Study is available on-line at:

Claude Steele is the Lucy Stern Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. He has done pioneering research on the ways in which race and gender stereotypes affect self-evaluation and academic performance in a range of settings. His elegant experimental work has been pivotal in delineating the mechanisms by which these such stereotypes can be mobilized and can significantly compromise standardized test performance. Significantly, he shows that even quite subtle cues can generate stereotype threat and that this affects women and African American students who are in the academic vanguard of their groups. Steele has also played an active role in designing and implementing strategies for defusing stereotype threat in educational contexts. For more information about Steele's research interests, see his website:

Virginia Valian is Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Linguistics at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). She is a cognitive scientist whose research ranges from first and second language acquisition to gender differences and gender equity. In her landmark book, Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women (MIT Press, 1998), she asks why so few women are at the top of their profession, whether the profession be science, law, medicine, college teaching, industry, or business. In answering this question she integrates research from psychology, sociology, economics, and neuropsychology. Valian is the lead Principal Investigator on an NSF ADVANCE Award, the "Gender Equity Project" at Hunter College. For more information about this initiative, visit the project website at: For more information about Valian's research interests and publications, visit her website at:

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