Whether or not quotas are ever imposed, some of the most productive science and engineering departments in America are busy filling out new federal paperwork. The agencies that have been cutting financing for Fermilab and the Spirit rover on Mars are paying for investigations of a problem that may not even exist. How is this good for scientists of either sex?
Apparently my problems in the field, and those of thousands of other women, are figments of our hysterical female imaginations. The numerous studies showing that women must be better to have the same success as men (here's a better NYTimes article) must be flawed. Instead, the article argues, what's really going on is that women are just happier elsewhere. And it dismisses the idea that this is because of the discrimination in the field.
The basic premise is that women enjoy interacting with people in higher percentages than men, who enjoy interacting with machines in higher percentages than women. This may be true, but it should have nothing to do with women in the sciences. In fact, computer science for example, is a highly interactive field. We work with each other, test subjects, students, etc. We go to conferences. (We even comment on blogs.) Ultimately, the portrayal of computer science desperately needs to change (I believe the NSF is working on an initiative to do this... but I can't find the link right now). But really, that's not what this article was about. In fact, the author could have taken a look at the field originally heavily regulated by Title IX - sports. When Title IX first began, I'm sure people made the argument that women just weren't as interested in sports as men. And yet the participation of women in sports has increased dramatically.
So the question is, should science be regulated by Title IX? I think that, as with other regulations, this all depends on how the oversight is implemented and what the outcome means in terms of paperwork and restrictions. But trying to think about it abstractly, my answer is yes. This does not mean that I believe in quotas, which I think might cause enough resentment so that they wouldn't be worth it. Instead, I believe that something drastic needs to be done to encourage (um, force) departments to take this issue seriously. As a grad student, I should not be a major advocate for women within my department - I should be a drop in the bucket. And yet I find myself frequently explaining why the department should care if there are women admitted, retained, etc. And frequently finding ways to help those goals along. And this is not to say that my department is not responsive to these issues when I bring them up - just that it is not a priority. Doing research is the priority. As it should be. Which is why I think departments need help.
One of the frequent oversights which increases the disparity between the percentages of women and men in the field (and is common to other minority groups as well) is the extent to which the majority make qualitative decisions based on their own familiarity with people like them. I served on my department's admissions committee this past year. I believe that we ultimately did a fair job, but in the discussions about candidates there were often comments like "I just have a feeling that she wouldn't make it here." We are scientists and should know better than to make such wildly unsubstantiated claims. Yet these are comments that appear at every level. They should not be allowed to impact the decision making process, but without some sort of regulation over the closed-door decisions these comments keep women who are only as good as the men out of the sciences. Perhaps Title IX could help.