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National Academy of Sciences (US), National Academy of Engineering (US), and Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Maximizing the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering. Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2007.

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Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering.

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1Introduction

Science and engineering education and research are increasingly global endeavors. As described in the recent National Academies report Rising Above the Gathering Storm, globalization has already begun to challenge the longstanding scientific pre-eminence of the United States and, therefore, its economic leadership. Identifying the best, brightest, and most innovative science and engineering talent will be crucial if the nation’s industries and the nation itself are to maintain their competitive edge.

Major American businesses have made clear that the skills needed in today’s increasingly global marketplace can only be developed through exposure to widely diverse people, cultures, ideas, and viewpoints.

—Sandra Day O’Connor1

In the last 30 years, the numbers and proportion of women obtaining science and engineering bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees have increased dramatically. Women’s presence has grown across the sciences (Figure 1-1). In the life sciences, women outnumber men in both undergraduate and graduate programs.2 Women now earn one-third of the PhDs granted by the 50 leading departments in chemistry, 27% in mathematics and statistics, and one-fourth in physics and astronomy. Even in engineering, historically the field with the fewest female participants, women now constitute one-fifth of undergraduate and graduate students.3 In the top 50 engineering departments, women earn one-fourth of the PhDs granted in chemical engineering and 15% in engineering overall.4

FIGURE 1-1. Percentage of science and engineering PhDs awarded to women, 1974-2004.

FIGURE 1-1

Percentage of science and engineering PhDs awarded to women, 1974-2004. SOURCE: National Science Foundation (2006). Survey of Earned Doctorates, 1974-2004. Arlington, VA.

In counterpoint to that dramatic educational progress, women, who constitute about half of the total workforce in the United States and half of the degree recipients in a number of scientific fields, still make up only one-fifth of the nation’s scientific and technical workers. As shown in Chapter 3, at every academic career milestone the proportion of women in science and engineering declines. These declines are evident even in 2003, the most recent year for which data are available. In examining the transition into academic positions (Figure 1-2), the declines are greatest in fields requiring a period of postdoctoral study, namely life sciences, chemistry, and mathematics. It is interesting that in psychology, which like life sciences and chemistry is a field with a high proportion of women undergraduate and graduate students, there is a substantial decline in the proportion of women with increasing faculty rank. In comparison, in fields with a low proportion of women undergraduate and graduate students such as computer science and physical sciences, these proportions remain fairly constant with increasing faculty rank (Figure 1-2).

FIGURE 1-2. Comparison of the proportion of women in PhD pools with those in tenure-track or tenured professor positions in 2003, by field.

FIGURE 1-2

Comparison of the proportion of women in PhD pools with those in tenure-track or tenured professor positions in 2003, by field.

The situation is especially severe for minority-group women in sciences and engineering,5 who are subject to dual discrimination and are required to overcome more barriers to achieve success. The bottom line is that minority-group women doctorates are less likely to be in tenure positions than men of any racial group or white women. The data on women faculty of color are discouraging (Box 1-1).

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BOX 1-1

Diversity among Women. DEFINING THE ISSUES Discrimination in the post-Civil Rights era is less a function of conscious antipathy and increasingly a byproduct of longstanding social structures, interaction patterns, and unexamined stereotypes that systematically (more...)

RECOGNIZING OBSTACLES

Women continue to face impediments to academic careers that do not confront men of comparable ability and training. Those barriers cause substantial waste of scientific and engineering talent and training. Several reports issued in the last 3 years have examined the barriers that women interested in science and engineering encounter at various stages of their career development. Some reports, including those by the Congressional Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering, and Technology (CAWMSET) and the Building Engineering and Science Talent (BEST) Initiative (Box 1-2) have focused on broad pipeline issues. Others, including RAND’s Gender Differences in Major Federal External Grant Programs and the Government Accountability Office’s Women’s Participation in the Sciences Has Increased, but Agencies Need to Do More to Ensure Compliance with Title IX, have focused on the role of funding agencies. A number of university task forces have also issued reports on the institutional climate for women faculty,6 including Harvard University’s task forces on Women Faculty and Women in Science and Engineering (Box 1-2).

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BOX 1-2

Building Engineering and Science Talent: The CAWMSET and BEST Projects. DEFINING THE ISSUES The innovation economy is a major factor in job growth in the United States; jobs in this economy require some technical or scientific knowledge. Women, African-Americans, (more...)

The National Academies, under the oversight of the Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, formed the Committee on Maximizing the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering to provide a synthesis of the existing reports and basic research and to examine the implicit and explicit obstacles to educational and academic career advancement of women scientists and engineers, and the effects of race and sex in academic science and engineering careers.

The committee was aided in fulfilling its charge by the National Academies’ Committee on Women in Science and Engineering, which during the same time was working on two reports on related subjects, To Recruit and Advance Women Students and Faculty in US Science and Engineering, and Gender Differences in the Careers of Science, Engineering, and Mathematics Faculty (Box 1-3). The Committee on Maximizing the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering also benefited from the expertise of the outside panelists and other participants in its convocation, held on December 9, 2005, in Washington, DC. A workshop report, Bio logical, Social, and Organizational Components of Success for Women in Academic Science and Engineering (http://books.nap.edu/catalog/11766.html), published by the National Academies Press, details the proceedings of that event.

Box Icon

BOX 1-3

Committee on Women in Science and Engineering: Gender Differences in the Careers of Science, Engineering,and Mathematics Faculty . FOCUS ON RESEARCH In response to a formal mandate from Congress, the Committee on Women in Science and Engineering (CWSE) (more...)

DEFINING THE ISSUES

This report is organized according to the major themes of the committee’s charge. Chapter 2 examines the research on learning and per formance to answer the question of whether cognitive differences between men and women exist and, if so, whether they form a basis for the differential success of men and women in science and engineering careers. Chapter 3 follows the education and career trajectory of scientists and engineers and examines the persistence and attrition of men and women from high school graduation through hiring to tenure as science and engineering faculty members. Chapter 4 examines how success is defined and evaluated in science and engineering and how gender schemas and discriminatory practices can affect evaluation of success. Chapter 5 examines academic institutions and how apparently gender-neutral policies interact with systematic constraints to disproportionately hinder the career progression of women scientists and engineers. Chapter 6 draws together the findings and shows why and what action should be taken to improve the career progression of women in science and engineering and concludes with a call to action.

Throughout the report, quotations, figures, tables, and boxes provide vignettes and additional data to illustrate the main points. Where possible, the committee broke out data by sex and by race or ethnicity. The boxes are organized into five categories: Controversies, Defining the Issues, Experiments and Strategies, Focus on Research, and Tracking and Evaluation. To assist universities in their efforts to remove the barriers that limit women’s participation in academic science and engineering, the committee has developed a scorecard that universities can use to evaluate their progress. It appears as a box in Chapter 6. Appendixes provide information on the committee and its charge and reprint a chapter discussing theories of discrimination from a 2005 National Academies report entitled Measuring Racial Discrimination.

As the committee’s deliberations progressed, it became increasingly clear that various cultural stereotypes and commonly held but unproven beliefs play major, frequently unacknowledged roles in the perception and treatment of women and their work in the scientific and engineering community. Those beliefs have often been cited as arguments against taking steps to improve the position of women in science and engineering or as reasons why such efforts are unnecessary, futile, or even harmful. To facilitate clear, evidence-based discussion of the issues, the committee compiled a list of commonly-held beliefs concerning women in science and engineering (Table S-1). Each is discussed and analyzed in detail in the text of the report.

The committee hopes that each of the actors involved in determining institutional culture and implementing relevant policies—universities, professional societies and higher education organizations, journals, federal funding agencies and foundations, federal agencies, and Congress—will give careful consideration to the extensive evidence supporting its findings and recommendations.

Government Accountability Office (2004). Gender Issues: Women’s Participation in the Sciences Has Increased, but Agencies Need to Do More to Ensure Compliance with Title IX (GAO-04-639). Washington, DC: US Government Accountability Office.

GAO (2004), ibid.

Ethnic and racial minority groups are defined using the current nomenclature of the US Census Bureau: African American, Hispanic, Native American (which includes Alaskan Natives and American Indians), and Asian American and Pacific Islanders. While the definition of underrepresented minorities varies by federal agency and between grant programs within agencies, by university, and between scientific and engineering disciplines, in this report by underrepresented minority we mean African American, Hispanic American, and Native American.

For a listing of University reports, see the National Academies’ Committee on Women in Science and Engineering Web page, Gender Faculty Studies at Research I Institutions, http://www7.nationalacademies.org/cwse/gender_faculty_links.html.

Footnotes

1

Opinion of the court. Grutter v. Bollinger 539 US 306, 2003. http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/pdf/02-241P.ZO.

2

Government Accountability Office (2004). Gender Issues: Women’s Participation in the Sciences Has Increased, but Agencies Need to Do More to Ensure Compliance with Title IX (GAO-04-639). Washington, DC: US Government Accountability Office.

3

GAO (2004), ibid.

4

Handelsman J, N Cantor, M Carnes, D Denton, E Fine, B Grosz, V Hinshaw, C Marrett, S Rosser, D Shalala, and J Sheridan (2005). More women in science. Science 309:1190-1191 http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/309/5738/1190.

5

Ethnic and racial minority groups are defined using the current nomenclature of the US Census Bureau: African American, Hispanic, Native American (which includes Alaskan Natives and American Indians), and Asian American and Pacific Islanders. While the definition of underrepresented minorities varies by federal agency and between grant programs within agencies, by university, and between scientific and engineering disciplines, in this report by underrepresented minority we mean African American, Hispanic American, and Native American.

6

For a listing of University reports, see the National Academies’ Committee on Women in Science and Engineering Web page, Gender Faculty Studies at Research I Institutions, http://www7.nationalacademies.org/cwse/gender_faculty_links.html.

7

See NAS/NAE/IOM (2005). Policy Implications of International Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Scholars in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Copyright © 2007, National Academy of Sciences.
Bookshelf ID: NBK9807
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