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Women's Work: Gender Equality vs. Hierarchy in the Life Sciences

Laurel Smith-Doerr
Women's Work: Gender Equality vs. Hierarchy in the Life Sciences
ISBN: 978-1-58826-264-6
ISBN: 978-1-58826-976-8
2004/205 pages/LC: 2004001841

"A provocative study to be appreciated by scholars in economic sociology, work and organizations, technology studies, and gender."—Carrie Yang Costello, American Journal of Sociology

"An engaging history of the establishment of the biotech field that is consequential to the matter of gender equality. The appendix alone is a valuable picture of the rigors of doing social science. This book may be about the collaborative inter- and intra-organizational networks of biotech workers but it will bring a knowing smile to sociologists familiar with the isolating challenges of empirical discovery in the social sciences.—Denise D. Bielby, Contemporary Sociology

"Smith-Doerr's book contributes to understandings of gender, careers, and forms of organization in life sciences and presents much-needed research on women scientists in industrial settings."—Mary Frank Fox, Georgia Institute of Technology


Women scientists working in small, for-profit companies are eight times more likely than their university counterparts to head a research lab. Why?

Laurel Smith-Doerr reveals that, contrary to widely held assumptions, strong career opportunities for women and minorities do not depend on the formal policies and long job ladders that large, hierarchical bureaucracies provide. In fact, highly internally linked biotechnology firms are far better workplaces for female scientists (when compared to university settings or established pharmaceutical companies), offering women richer opportunities for career advancement.

Based on quantitative analyses of more than two-thousand life scientists' careers and qualitative studies of scientists in eight biotech and university settings, Smith-Doerr's work shows clearly that the network form of organization, rather than fostering "old boy networks," provides the organizational flexibility that not only stimulates innovation, but also aids women's success.


Laurel Smith-Doerr is assistant professor of sociology at Boston University.


  • Introduction.
  • Explaining Sexual Apartheid in Science.
  • A Brief Life Story of the Life Sciences.
  • Life in the Commercial Laboratory: Institutionalizing the Network Form.
  • Coming in on Queue? Men's and Women's Entry into Biotech.
  • Networks versus Hierarchies in Promoting Women Scientists.
  • Flexibility, Flexibility, Flexibility: Narratives Explaining Gender Equality in Biotech.
  • Conclusion: The Knowledge Economy, Innovation, and Equality.
  • Appendix: Combining Qualitative and Quantitative Methods to Study Scientists.