Let's value women and minorities

Women and minorities are still second-class citizens of the US scientific community. A committee of the National Research Council (NRC), the executive arm of the National Academy of Sciences, has found disparities in rank and pay between men and women of equal qualifications that are too wide and too general to be explained as other than evidence of continuing sexual discrimination.

Nevertheless, as was recently pointed out by Shirley M. Malcolm of the Office of Opportunities in Science of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, women, relatively speaking, ''made tremendous gains during the 1970 's.'' Yet, she adds, ''This is not true of minorities . . . (which) saw little real progress over the past decade.''

Even women have a lot of catching up to do. To quote from the NRC announcement: ''. . . for respondents earning doctorates 20 or more years ago, 87 percent of the men were full professors, compared with 67 percent of the women. For . . . (those) earning degrees 10 to 19 years ago, the man was 50 percent more likely than the woman to have been promoted to full professor.

''Academic women earning PhDs prior to 1960 reported earnings that were $3, 800, or 11 percent, below those of men. . . .'' The study also finds that ''Even for the most recent 1975-1978 PhDs, involuntary unemployment was 21/2 times higher for women than for men.''

The council concludes that ''objective factors alone cannot account adequately for the career differences which exist between male and female PhDs.'' By ''objective factors,'' it means such things as time out for child-rearing or career-diverting effects of marriage, which often are cited as reasons for slower advancement of women.

In other words, a pattern of discrimination still exists. And, as Shirley Malcolm points out, this is even more bitterly true for blacks, Hispanics, and members of other US minority groups.

While this reflects discriminatory attitudes in academia, the roots of inequality are deep. Playing a big role are lower expectations of achievement which are projected on minorities people and women in the elementary schools and which dull career expectations and encourage inferior education. This is why cutbacks in federal support for science education for the minority people and women are felt so keenly by those, such as Ms. Malcolm, who are concerned about inequality.

Also, as Ms. Malcolm notes, everyone loses by such discrimination. ''Science has not been served well by our past prejudice and discrimination,'' she says. ''We have lost time, talent, and ideas.''

The United States needs the creative resources of all its people. Its citizens should cherish, and make the most of, their diversity. That means, among other things, continued support for programs that help develop the capabilities of women and minorities - programs that now seem all too vulnerable to the budget-trimmer's knife.

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