From the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who broke the story, the inspiring account of the sixteen female scientists who forced MIT to publicly admit it had been discriminating against its female faculty for years—sparking a nationwide reckoning with the pervasive sexism in science.
In 1999, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology admitted to discriminating against women on its faculty, forcing institutions across the country to confront a problem they had long ignored: the need for more women at the top levels of science. Written by the journalist who broke the story for TheBoston Globe, TheExceptions is the untold story of how sixteen highly accomplished women on the MIT faculty came together to do the work that triggered the historic admission.
The Exceptions centers on the life of Nancy Hopkins, a reluctant feminist who became the leader of the sixteen and a hero to two generations of women in science. Hired to prestigious universities at the dawn of affirmative action efforts in the 1970s, Dr. Hopkins and her peers embarked on their careers believing that discrimination against women was a thing of the past—that science was, at last, a pure meritocracy. For years they explained away the discrimination they experienced as the exception, not the rule. Only when these few women came together after decades of underpayment and the denial of credit, advancement, and equal resources to do their work did they recognize the relentless pattern: women were often marginalized and minimized, especially as they grew older. Meanwhile, men of similar or lesser ability had their career paths paved and widened.
The Exceptions is a powerful yet all-too-familiar story that will resonate with all professional women who experience what those at MIT called “21st-century discrimination”—a subtle and stubborn bias, often unconscious but still damaging. As in bestsellers from Hidden Figures to Lab Girl and Code Girls, we are offered a rare glimpse into the world of high-level scientific research and learn about the extraordinary female scientists whose work has been overlooked throughout history, and how these women courageously fought for fair treatment as they struggled to achieve the recognition they rightfully deserve.
About the Author
Kate Zernike has been a reporter for The New York Times since 2000. She was a member of the team that won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for stories about al-Qaeda before and after the 9/11 terror attacks. She was previously a reporter for The Boston Globe, where she broke the story of MIT’s admission that it had discriminated against women on its faculty, on which The Exceptions is based. The daughter and granddaughter of scientists, she is a graduate of Trinity College at the University of Toronto and the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and sons.
“Zernike, a wonderful storyteller, seamlessly weaves together contemporary events, facts and statistics, and telling anecdotes from women who were working in the sciences at that time, recreating for readers an almost unbelievable culture of never-ending microaggressions, sexual harassment, and professional disdain... Zernike's profile of Nancy Hopkins provides brilliant inspiration."—Booklist (starred review)
"A fascinating, heartening account of successful advocacy in the scientific and academic communities… A powerful story of 16 women who ‘upset the usual assumptions about why there were so few women in science and math in the U.S.’”—Kirkus (starred review)
“What Nancy Hopkins achieved is exceptional—in science of course, but more broadly in society. What Kate Zernike has achieved in this brilliant book is also exceptional—a condemnation of the treatment of women in science and a riveting story about the drive to pursue science."—Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winner The Emperor of All Maladies and the #1 New York Times bestseller The Gene
"Kate Zernike broke the end of this story for the Boston Globe in 1999. Now she goes back to tell it from the beginning, and even though you know how it turns out, you'll hang on every word. A blistering, brave, heartbreaking, and heartening account of brilliant women and the world-changing power of sisterhood and science." —Janice P. Nimura, author of The Doctors Blackwell
“A gripping case study of the horrors and triumphs of the gender revolution in science. No matter who you are, be prepared to be transformed by the remarkable life and career of Nancy Hopkins and the MIT 16. The Exceptions will shock (‘never again’ you will repeat, every few pages); equally, it will instill hope from shining examples of the indomitability of the oppressed insisting simply on a life in science.”--Mahzarin R. Banaji, co-author of Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People
"A story I wouldn't believe except that it's true, told by the reporter who broke it first. I'm embarrassed to say that I knew nothing about Nancy Hopkins before opening the cover of The Exceptions. Once I started, I couldn't stop. By the end, I thought, there is no stronger antidote to imposter syndrome than knowing someone like you was good enough all along--and that it is the rules that need to change, not the players." -- Angela Duckworth, author of Grit
“A stunning account of discrimination against women scientists based on riveting interviews that reveal disturbing practices and behavior of top male scientists at MIT and elsewhere.”—Kenneth R. Manning, author of Black Apollo of Science
“Two decades ago, MIT recognized the gender inequality in its faculty and publicly began an effort to address the situation. This well researched and well written book tells that story and places it in an historical and national context. Despite our advances in science and technology, our country and our world still have a long way to go in acknowledging the talents, worth, and contributions of women.”—Alan Lightman, author of Einstein’s Dreams
“Equally gifted as both reporter and storyteller, Kate Zernike has given us a book that is always engaging, at times shocking, and in the end thrilling: a stirring account of the triumph of women scientists—simultaneously brilliant and brave—in their long struggle for full equality. The Exceptions is exceptional.”—Daniel Okrent, author of The Guarded Gate and Last Call
"When, despite talent and tenure, Professor Nancy Hopkins found herself thwarted in her ability to do science at her own institution, she got together with a group of other tenured women scientists and collected data that demonstrated discrimination. They documented the size of men’s and women’s offices, their salaries, and the difference in their committee assignments and course loads. Tenured male professors got help with mortgages to buy houses. The tenured women didn’t know these programs existed. The president of MIT admitted discrimination. It was the start of a new kind of conversation in academic life. The Exceptions is pitch perfect in telling this story as only a first chapter in an ongoing struggle. A page-turner. Poignant. Infuriating. Inspirational. I read it and was reminded that this work needs to be taken up by each new generation of women in the workplace."—Sherry Turkle, Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology, MIT; author of Reclaiming Conversation and The Empathy Diaries