Diversity and Inclusion in Physics :"Women in Physics: Understanding and Overcoming Biases and Barriers"

Fri, 04/07/2017 - 16:00
Amy Graves (Swathmore)

Physics is phenomenally successful at taking data on sexless, raceless objects and transforming that information into mathematical laws with highly accurate predictive power. Why, therefore, should gender be an issue among physicists – so that there is a paucity of women in physics, at all professional levels and in virtually all nations? It is a tenet of gender studies that one should avoid attributing complicated effects to a single cause. (Gender studies is a field guaranteed to annoy the physicist.  Data stubbornly confound our ability to write laws, and unifying principles - when they exist at all - offer much less in the way of predictive power.)

This talk will discuss the good news: In a few decades, we have gone from a "leaky physics pipeline" at all career stages, overt discrimination, and tolerance of harassment to a much better situation of double-digit percentages of women on faculties, hiring and promotion at equitable rates, and gender bias that is usually quite subtle. We will also discuss the less-good news: The situation of underrepresented minorities remains dire.  Moreover, there is much evidence of subtle bias, with less-than-subtle consequences. We will present results from the literature and from a study conducted at Swarthmore (to appear in JWMSE, 2017).  Even small disadvantages can accumulate over time, so that the cumulative effect is reduced retention and less satisfaction with one’s career.  

Finally, we will suggest remedies: acknowledging and correcting for implicit bias, reforming workplace-policy, retaining girls between school and college, bringing in under-represented minorities, and fostering mentoring relationships. 


Amy Graves is Professor of Physics in the Dept. of Physics and Astronomy of Swarthmore College. She received B.A.'s in mathematics and physics from Williams College, a PhD in physics from MIT and did postdoctoral work at Exxon R&E, and Columbia University. She is currently a member of the Apker Award committee of the American Physical Society (APS), and in the past has been Chair of the APS Division of Computational Physics. At Swarthmore, Graves has been Department Chair, and has taught broadly across the undergraduate curriculum. Her research with undergraduates, currently in collaboration with the Liu group at U. Penn, been supported by the Research Corporation, NSF, and the Petroleum Research Fund of the American Chemical Society. Her work on gender and science has been supported by the Mellon Foundation. Graves and her husband, LG, have a blended family of five children aged 20-38, five grandchildren, two dogs, a rabbit, a fish tank, and some rats.

David Rittenhouse Laboratory, A4