Gender discrimination in the workplace is at its lowest rate ever – but remains incredibly prevalent, even in our country’s leading research institutions. The Washington Post recently reported on a female scientist who filed an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint against her employer, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), for failing to offer her tenure based on gender bias.
The scientist has spent several years at the NIH researching a cure for Multiple Sclerosis. She has developed an international recommendation, and was recommended for tenure several times by outside peers. She has asserted – and not without cause – that the NIH is currently succumbing to gender bias in its failure to consider her for tenure.
Raw data rarely give the full picture, but can provide a helpful frame; it’s notable that of the 827 tenured individuals at the NIH, fewer than 25 percent are women.
“It’s not negligence”
“It’s not negligence,” the researcher told the Post. “Women [at the NIH] are considered second-rate citizens. They are fully aware that this is happening, the leadership. It’s happening with their blessing.”
The NIH, meanwhile, asserts that they have made good-faith efforts to reverse gender inequality within the institution. Its spokespeople note that, simply put, more men apply for tenure-track jobs than women, and this is the cause of the numbers discrepancy.
Yet these explanations strike many as excuses. And many women, such as the present researcher, have decided that legal action is the only means to rectify workplace unfairness.
Bad for the whole economy
Gender discrimination does not only affect the individuals who suffer it, nor the institutions they work for. As many studies note, it can hold back an entire industry or field of research.
The NIH has had warning signs that its women employees are frustrated. While few discrimination suits have been filed, the institution has seen many of its top women researchers leave for Stanford, Harvard, Northwestern, and other posts. The question now is whether the National Institutes of Health will do anything to reverse the trend.