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Think Again: Lawrence Summers Speaks His Mind on Women in Science

December 05, 2006

If Lawrence H. Summers, the former president of Harvard University, is tired of talking about women in science, you couldn’t tell when the issue came up this morning at a panel discussion in Washington.

Mr. Summers’s controversial remarks about the aptitude of women in science and mathematics helped lead to his ouster as president last February. Today he participated in an hourlong discussion at the Brookings Institution, a think tank, about several new papers on science and economic growth. There was no talk about female scientists — until the very last question, that is. An audience member asked the panel about what universities should do to help women in the sciences avoid glass ceilings in their careers. All eyes swung to Mr. Summers.

Immediately grabbing a microphone, he said, “Maybe I should say something about that.” The audience roared with laughter.

“Larry, maybe you shouldn’t,” quipped one of the other panel members.

“Let’s say I’ve had an opportunity to be educated on the topic,” he shot back, smiling.

Mr. Summers said that how women and men can develop careers while raising children is “a profoundly important question” for organizations of all types and “a question that bears with particular force on the careers of women.” Echoing recent studies of the issue, he spoke of allowing flexible work arrangements to help scientists juggle those responsibilities.