There are some really good issues brought out in this thread, and
many of them reflect behavior that is so subtle, unintentional, and
clueless, that it is virtually impossible to confront directly. I agree
with Muriel that some of the problem stems from a view that Affirmative
Action means less-qualified and quota-filling. But, the greatest
problem that I have seen is that the definition of "equally qualified"
is too subjective -- if one WANTS to make a distinction, almost any
inconsequential criterion can be used to distinguish between two faculty
applicants, BOTH of whom are terrific scientists.
One of our searches (broadly advertised Cell & Molecular biology)
this year drew 600+ applications. The search committee was impressed
and delighted with the great quality of the pool. Indeed, they boasted
about how difficult it would be to narrow down selection lists to the
final invite list. "There could easily be 15 people they would love to
interview." So what happened? The pool included approximately 30%
women (fairly consistent over the last few years), and the final invite
list had 1 woman among 6. I asked one of the search committee members
why it wasn't possible to invite more women from among those 15 greats,
and was the distinction from #6 to those "below" that significant?
Note: there were at least two more women among the #7-#10 group. Well,
the answer was a confident "of course there's a difference." I simply
don't buy it. That difference is based on value judgements that have
little to do with predicting an individual's likelihood for scientific
success or colleaguial contributions. I'm tired of the arrogant
discussions about an applicant's "star quality." ["He" had the star
quality, even though "she's" the one who already had an NIH R01 grant as
Admittedly, I have become rather radical about this over the last
few searches; however, if there is an earnest commitment to increasing
the number of women faculty at universities like mine, then for broadly
described searches it would be VERY EASY to do it. A short list with
only 1 man among 6 (easily done for many searches WITHOUT compromise)
would certainly evoke cries of "discrimination," yet this is what
would/should result for many searches if we took Affirmative Action
seriously. The fact is that most departments have acquired their
"representative" women faculty, so that there is no longer any urgency.
I'm not content with 4 out of 32, but then mine is a minority opinion.
For my male colleagues, it is simply not an important enough issue any
more to force an examination of how valid their criteria of "quality"
Of course, none of the above addresses the logistical difficulties
of actually recruiting a woman faculty member in towns like
Charlottesville and Bloomington, where spousal/partner accommodations
are frequently an issue. But, "front loading" the search would
certainly increase the probability of succeeding with such a hire!