When fighting for women's rights goes oh so wrong

I think there’s been a (mostly) general sense of agreement that America needs to get more young women into the technical fields if we want to see gender pay issues abate. That’s where most of the growth is (outside of healthcare) and where you find the most plentiful jobs earning higher wages. But how do we go about making this happen?

One professor at the University of Akron in Ohio seems to have cracked the code. Noticing that not all of the female students were performing at the same level on standardized testing as their male counterparts, professor Liping Liu quickly found a way to ensure that the young ladies would be heading for the employment market on equal footing with the guys. Read on to find out how this miracle took place. (New York Post, emphasis added)

University of Akron officials this week blocked a professor from carrying out his plan to raise female students’ grades as part of what he called a “national movement to encourage female students to go to information sciences.”

According to school officials, Liping Liu, an information systems analysis and design teacher who has worked at the university since 2001, said in an email to students:

“FYI, your grade has been sent to the university registrar. The following categories of students may see their grades raised one level or two: Female students (it is a national movement to encourage female students to go to information sciences).

Who knew it was this simple? We’ve been having this massive debate over how to enroll more young women in technical career tracks, ensure they have the resources they need and stamp out any potential gender discrimination in hiring and setting wages. But all we needed to do was just bump all the girls’ scores up to Dean’s List levels and the problem would sort itself out. This guy is a genius.

Sadly, genius all too often goes unrecognized or underappreciated. The university provost canceled the plan, saying, “While the professor’s stated intention of encouraging female students to go into the information sciences field may be laudable, his approach as described in his email was clearly unacceptable.”

Fortunately, the response from the students, including the women, was almost uniformly in line with the provost. Students described the plan as “a crutch” which women shouldn’t need. One of the only charitable comments stated that it was a good idea executed poorly.

Why the female students in that particular class weren’t performing as well as the guys remains a mystery. You can’t begin drawing conclusions from such a small sample. Overall it seems as if women in STEM discipline programs perform at least as well as the men if not better. The real problem is that so few women go after degrees in these fields as compared to males. One part of the problem may indeed be based in bias, but it’s a systemic problem of perceived gender roles which begins at an early age. Further, there are regular complaints about the universities themselves, where men are given preferential treatment in terms of being hired, attaining tenure, receiving grant funds and all the rest.

Perhaps those factors contribute to the real reason that there are fewer women in STEM fields and the lower average salaries they receive. Yet another study last year found that women entering college dominate in majors which lead to lower paying jobs upon graduation. They tend to aggregate toward education tracks leading to careers where the median base pay is easily 20% lower (many times even worse) than careers in computer science, mechanical, electrical or chemical engineering which tend to pay the best.

Balancing this out may take a long time and it undoubtedly needs to start in the home and in elementary schools where future expectations are set early on. But I’m pretty sure we can all agree that having colleges just give all the young ladies automatic A’s to kickstart their careers isn’t going to solve anything.