Proceedings of a Workshop
Evidence-Based Interventions for Addressing the Underrepresentation of Women in Science, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine
Proceedings of a Symposium—in Brief
The scientific, engineering, and medical communities have worked for decades to improve the representation of women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM). While there has been significant progress, women—and particularly women of color—remain underrepresented in many scientific fields and at many levels in education and career stages.
On March 11, 2019, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine held a symposium to examine policies, practices, and strategies that have effectively improved the representation of women in STEMM. The event also helped inform the ongoing work of the Committee on Addressing the Underrepresentation of Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine,1 including discussions of the major themes of the 2007 National Academies’ report, Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering,2 as well as an examination of policies, practices, and strategies that have demonstrated effectiveness in opening doors to women’s participation and success in STEMM.
WELCOME AND OPENING REMARKS
Marcia McNutt, president, National Academy of Sciences, began by noting that the issue of the underrepresentation of women in STEMM is particularly important to her, given her role as the first woman president of the National Academy of Sciences. While serving in this role is an important development, it should not be a unique occurrence, she said.
McNutt spoke about the robust body of scholarship examining the lack of diversity in STEMM; however, the current National Academies study will examine policies and practices that can address the broader issue of underrepresentation. The focus of the symposium was on these solutions.
Mae Jemison, chair, Committee on Addressing the Underrepresentation of Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine, added that the current National Academies committee examining this issue focusses on understanding the basis for effective solutions to address the underrepresentation of women in STEMM, including what facilitates and hinders the scaling and adoption of these solutions. Further, the committee will continue to examine the intersection of race and gender by considering the accumulated research on specific barriers faced by women of color in STEMM as well as the research on policies and practices that have had an impact on their representation.
Jemison added that now, more than ever, we need a diversity of talent to solve critical global challenges, such as climate change. The committee’s efforts are motivated by the desire to promote the change that is needed to address these challenges, not only for the benefit of women, but for the broader good of the nation and world.
1 Information related to the activities of the Committee on Addressing the Underrepresentation of Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine can be found at https://www8.nationalacademies.org/pa/projectview.aspx?key=51113.
2 National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. 2007. Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/11741.
Elaine Weyuker, university distinguished professor of computer science, University of Central Florida, discussed the lack of progress made since the 2007 Academies report, Beyond Bias and Barriers, particularly in the field of computer science. She spoke about her experiences and background as a woman in computer science, noting that the field continues to be one of the most challenging for women. Throughout her decades of tenure, there was at most one other woman serving as faculty in the computer science department. Most women in the field never encounter a female computer science professor. As a member of the Beyond Bias panel, Weyuker said that in the 12 years since the report was completed, very little has changed in the field of computer science—there continues to be few women, particularly at senior levels.
To help address underrepresentation of women in computer science, Weyuker suggested changing its image, reframing it as a caring discipline, and highlighting its contributions, for example, to the health and other industries. There is a constant leakage throughout the pipeline in computer science and comparatively little progress has been made.
Efforts to address implicit bias in academia, a key issue discussed in the Beyond Bias and Barriers report, were described by Eve Fine, associate scientist and director of curriculum development and implementation, Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute (WISELI), University of Wisconsin-Madison. For example, Fine discussed the positive impact of evidence-based initiatives to address gender disparities, including hiring workshops for faculty search committees, climate workshops for department chairs, and bias literacy workshops to address gender bias and promote diversity and inclusion.
Fine also discussed the impact of a bias literacy workshop implemented as a cluster randomized, control trial in 92 STEMM departments with 2290 faculty (50.4 percent of whom responded to online surveys). Faculty in 46 departments who were offered the workshop (“experimental departments”) showed significantly greater changes than those who were not offered the workshop (“control departments”) on several measures, including motivation and self-efficacy to engage in gender equity promoting behaviors.3 When at least 25 percent of a department’s faculty attended the workshop, significant increases in self-reported action to promote gender equity occurred at follow up. In a subsequent campus-wide climate survey, both the men and women faculty in experimental departments reported that they felt they fit better in their department and were more comfortable raising family issues that conflicted with departmental issues. Additionally, experimental departments that received the workshop were more likely to hire women faculty than control departments. These results indicate that implicit bias training can work to change individual behaviors. Fine stated that implementing evidence-based strategies to change institutional and organizational policies, practices, and procedures is also essential.
CURRENT EFFORTS TO UNDERSTAND AND ADDRESS THE UNDERREPRESENTATION OF WOMEN IN ACADEMIA
In addition to bias training, research to understand factors in academia that may play a role in addressing the underrepresentation of women in STEMM is currently underway. Data from a recent study by Leslie et al.4 indicate that fewer women and minorities enter fields that are associated with innate brilliance, e.g., physics, philosophy, and music composition—demonstrating the scope of the challenge and need to change this mindset.
Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, professor of psychology, University of California, Berkeley, discussed a study conducted at his university related to gender and opportunities to publish among graduate students. Results indicated that in fields such as electrical engineering, mathematics, and physical sciences, women and underrepresented minorities were less likely to publish; however, in chemistry, there was near parity among these groups in terms of the number of publications.5
3 Carnes M., P.G. Devine, Baier Manwell L., et al. 2015. The effect of an intervention to break the gender bias habit for faculty at one institution: a cluster randomized, controlled trial. Academic Medicine 90(2):221-30.
4 Leslie, S.-J., A. Cimpian, M. Meyer, and E. Freeland. 2015. Expectations of brilliance underlie gender distributions across academic disciplines. Science 347(6219), 262–265.
5 Mendoza-Denton, R. et al. 2017. Differences in STEM doctoral publication by ethnicity, gender and academic field at a large public research university. PLoS ONE 12(4): e0174296. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0174296.
In a subsequent review of 1998-2013 Ph.D. exit survey data from UC Berkeley, more women and underrepresented minorities received Ph.Ds in chemistry, while relatively fewer earned Ph.Ds in electrical engineering and mathematics during this period. Upon further examination of factors that may have contributed to the increased participation of women and underrepresented minorities in chemistry, Mendoza-Denton discussed the amount of structure (i.e., having clear expectations, guidelines, and opportunities accessible to all students) that guides the programs in the department. For example, faculty in chemistry departments reported holding regular check-in meetings and there was documentation of clearly-defined expectations for students and faculty. This introduced the concept that structure embedded in a program may play a role in reducing bias and discrimination in academic settings.
IMPACT OF FAMILY-FRIENDLY POLICIES
The impact of family-friendly policies on increasing the representation of women and underrepresented minorities in STEMM fields was a key topic of discussion during the symposium. Kathleen Christenson, program director, Working Longer, Sloan Foundation, presented the Sloan Foundation’s study results on the impact of family-friendly programs for women faculty over a 10-year period. In general, data indicated that work-life programs help women in STEMM fields. For example, work-life office and partner job assistance programs showed strong effects for minority women. Work-life flexibility programs, such as part-time career paths, teaching relief, and tenure extensions as well as child care programs showed strong effects for all groups of women.
Christenson also described the Academic Biomedical Career Customization tool, developed at Stanford University. This decision-making tool examines four career dimensions: pace, workload, location/schedule, and role. It provides information about how a policy choice, such as allowing a sabbatical for part of the year to hone one’s research focus or offering elder care benefits, may impact work-life balance. Participants using the tool reported higher institutional satisfaction, had 1.3 more grant awards than non-participants, and were awarded $1.1 million more in grant funding than non-participants.
Beth Shelton, CEO, Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa, Infants at Work Policy, stated that family-friendly policies have been an important focus for her organization. She described a specific situation when an employee who was about to have her first child requested to bring her child to work. Shelton said that her initial reaction was to say no, as a policy that would allow infants in the workplace would be disruptive. After ruminating about the mission of the organization and who they serve, she decided to further consider the idea. She learned that the National Association of Insurance Commissioners already had a policy allowing infants in the workplace. After further research, they developed a plan for all staff offering the opportunity to allow infants into the workplace. The results have been nothing short of amazing, she said. They have found while there are a variety of solutions to support new parents in the workplace, such as extended paid parental leave and onsite day care, their current program works best for their operations.
Shelton stated that organizations should consider family-friendly policies in an effort to retain employees. There are ways to offer flexible policies, but organizations must be willing to revisit what is possible by examining their mission, organizational culture, and processes (see Figure 1). Adopting family-friendly policies is consistent with the mission of every organization. Shelton added that leaders bear the responsibility of maintaining operations and finances, as well as seeking solutions to address barriers for underrepresentation of women in the workplace.
THE “IDEAL WORKER”
Mia Ong, senior research scientist and evaluator, Technical Education Research Centers, Inc., discussed the concept of the “ideal worker norm” in STEMM. The “ideal worker” is one who demonstrates a commitment to the job through long hours and unbroken career trajectories. They are seen as constantly available. In this scenario, there is an assumed gendered separation of paid work and family life. According to Drago et al. (2006), “successful women will need to be the most ideal of ideal workers.”6
Ong added that research indicates there is a cumulative disadvantage for women of color in STEMM. Women of color work under conditions of institutional tokenism and structural inequality, and experience isolation, exclusion, and exposure to racial and gender inequities. Small differences in treatment can pile up, resulting in large disparities. Compounding these issues, there are few role models, mentors, or culturally competent advisory supports in STEMM in academia, and an implicit discouragement of using family leave policies.
She discussed approaches for addressing some of these issues, including changing the cultural norms of the “ideal worker” by, for example, implementing training for culturally competent mentoring; honoring family leave policies; enforcing strict policies against discrimination and harassment; and sponsoring more research on women of color and career-life balance in STEMM workplaces.
INTRODUCTORY REMARKS AND KEYNOTE ADDRESS
Vivian Pinn, senior scientist emerita, Fogarty International Center & Former Director (retired), Office of Research on Women’s Health, NIH, described the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH’s) sponsoring role in the pivotal Beyond Bias and Barriers report, including its impact at the institutes. At the time of the report’s release, Pinn noted that Rep. Donna Shalala, chair of the authoring committee, approached NIH and encouraged the agency not to ignore the recommendations. This resulted in a number of actions by NIH, including the creation of a working group on women in biomedical careers. The working group was instrumental in driving change at NIH, but a commitment from NIH leadership was also critical to this progress. Pinn introduced Shalala as a leader in this area.
Rep. Donna Shalala, chair of the 2007 National Academies’ report Beyond Bias and Barriers, former Secretary of Health and Human Services, and currently Representing Florida’s 27th Congressional District, began by discussing the Beyond Bias and Barriers report, noting that it had an impact due to the timing of its release. The report provided a conceptual framework, the basis of which was the idea that for a society to be truly economically successful, it needed to take advantage of all of its talent, directly tying economic progress to inclusion. Shalala added that to ensure that the recommendations were taken seriously, the committee took on the great research universities and told them without their leadership, nothing would change. Academic organizational structures provide fewer opportunities for women, and the authors of the report hoped that it would ultimately lead to strategies to address this.
To ensure that the forthcoming National Academies report has an impact, Shalala stated that it is critical to ensure the recommendations are operational and that important constituencies and institutions are identified and engaged. Intentionally targeting recommendations to these constituencies, such as federal agencies, state governments, business, etc., will ensure that the findings are meaningfully considered.
RECRUITMENT, RETENTION, AND ADVANCEMENT OF WOMEN IN STEMM
Efforts to improve the recruitment, retention, and the advancement of women in STEMM were key issues addressed during the symposium. Reshma Jagsi, professor, deputy chair, and residency program director, department of radiation oncology, and director, Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine, University of Michigan, discussed this issue from the perspective of the field of medicine. In the medical field, there is a decline of women at every stage, with women representing about half of applicants to medical school, but only 16 percent of medical school deans (see Figure 2). There is also variation in the distribution of women by specialty, with more women in pediatrics and far fewer in internal medicine, as well as a gender gap in terms of authorship, with women producing fewer publications. Other research on women’s participation in academic medicine indicates that the proportion of women who advance to associate professor is significantly lower, Jagsi said. Women who reach the ranks of associate professor are also less likely to become full professor than their male counterparts.7
6 R. Drago, et al. 2006. The avoidance of bias against caregiving: the case of academic faculty. American Behavioral Scientist. 49(9): 1222-1247. doi 10.1177/0002764206286387.
7 L. Nonnemaker. 2000. Women physicians in academic medicine—new insights from cohort studies. New England Journal of Medicine 342:399-405. doi: 10.1056/NEJM200002103420606.
Jagsi said that interventions to address this gender imbalance must confront the strikingly high rates of harassment in medicine, integrate creative opportunities to recognize service, and support work-life programs. She added there is a need for an institutional commitment to address these issues, through implicit bias training, sponsorship interventions, and transparent and consistent criterion-based evaluation, promotion, and compensation processes. Women do not share equally in power and authority in the field of medicine. The cause is not simply a slow pipeline. To recruit, retain, and advance women in medicine, evidence-based interventions must target the root causes of gender inequity in ways that appreciate commonalities with other fields as well as the distinctive features of this profession, stated Jagsi.
Alice M. Agogino, Roscoe and Elizabeth Hughes professor of mechanical engineering, University of California, Berkeley, discussed efforts to advance faculty diversity at her institution. This included a 2017-2018 pilot initiative designed to improve the faculty search process, overcome barriers faced by female and underrepresented minority applicants, and advance equity and inclusion at the university. The pilot resulted in the hiring of an impressive cohort of faculty as well as the development of revised hiring guidance and practices. Improvements to the recruitment process during faculty searches in 2018-2019 included using updated search guidelines, targeted outreach methods, and implicit bias training. The discussion of the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion rubrics were integrated throughout this process. These recruitment efforts were effective in improving and diversifying the search process.
Agogino said that these recruitment initiatives highlight the need to take diversity and a clearly defined diversity statement seriously. She added that contributions to equity and inclusion should be considered as important as research and teaching. Information should be provided on why and how to integrate diversity statements into hiring and evaluation rubrics, such as University of California, Berkeley’s Rubric to Assess Candidate Contributions to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.8 Also, cluster hiring, or “extra slots,” that departments compete for provide an opportunity and incentivize faculty to identify candidates that are outside of pre-defined priority hiring areas.
INTERSECTING IDENTITIES IN STEMM
Kimberly Griffin, associate professor, higher education, student affairs, and international education policy program, University of Maryland, discussed research on the intersectionality of race, gender, and ethnicity related to STEMM.
Understanding intersectionality requires an acknowledgement that people have multiple identities that inform decisions around their career path.9 This is important to consider when addressing challenges of underrepresentation in STEMM. She noted that we must be intentional and thoughtful as we consider how these identities come together.
Women of color continue to leave academia at high rates or express lower interest in academic careers, Griffin
9 Museus, S.D. and K.A. Griffin. 2011. Mapping the margins in higher education: On the promise of intersectionality frameworks in research and discourse. New Directions for Institutional Research 151:5 – 13. doi: 10.1002/ir.395.
said. One reason cited is that women of color do not see anyone who looks like them and report that they do not feel like they are visible unless others are talking about diversity. They also discussed concerns about their abilities and “not belonging.”
Griffin described guiding principles for integrating intersectional interventions. The first principle is that words matter. Using language such as “women and men of color,” or “white women and people of color,” can help to clarify this intersection of identities. Similarly, images shape our expectations, representation, and role models; interventions should acknowledge these issues.
NATIONAL PROGRAM EFFORTS TO ADDRESS THE UNDERREPRESENTATION OF WOMEN IN STEMM
In addition to efforts in academia, federal agencies, including those below, have taken action to address the underrepresentation of women in STEMM. Janine Clayton, director, Office of Research on Women’s Health, NIH, stated that the Beyond Bias and Barriers report set off a tidal wave of activity in NIH, including the creation of a working group on women in biomedical sciences, previously described by Dr. Pinn. The group worked collaboratively across NIH to identify barriers and create solutions for advancing women in the field, including implementing agency-wide family friendly policies. The group also issued a request for application in 2008 for research on causal factors and interventions to support women in biomedical fields. Research resulting from this opportunity contributed significantly to the understanding of how women make career choices and how workplaces may inadvertently create barriers to women’s advancement.
A key element of NIH’s mission is to promote career advancement for women in STEMM. Clayton said the agency is working to accomplish this by adopting evidence-based interventions to address gender equity (see Figure 3). These include providing resources on mentoring, retention, and career advancement; leadership development; training opportunities; work-life integration; and helping to connect students and career professionals with professional societies that promote their interests. NIH also has working groups focused on diversity and culture change to end sexual harassment and a scientific workforce diversity office. The recently released Trans-NIH Strategic Plan10 includes women’s health research as a key research goal. NIH wants accelerated change in this area. Advancing women is critical to ensuring a well-trained and diverse workforce, said Clayton.
Suzi Iacono, head of the office of integrative activities, National Science Foundation, said that NSF has demonstrated a commitment to diversity and inclusion, as evidenced by a number of initiatives to improve diversity and inclusion. These include the activities of the Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering (CEOSE), various cross-agency sexual harassment working groups, the addition of inclusion as a core value in the agency’s strate gic plan, and programs such as ADVANCE and the Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology focused on Broadening
10 The plan can be found at: https://orwh.od.nih.gov/about/trans-nih-strategic-plan-womens-health-research.
Participation of Groups UR in Biology, among others. The agency continues to focus on improving its diversity, and notes that while there has not been much change in terms of the gender, racial, and ethnic diversity of NSF scientists and engineers, women are winning NSF awards at a higher rate than men overall.
Iacono discussed the efforts of the Interagency Policy Group on Increasing Diversity in the STEM Workforce, which identified several best practices in this area, including implementing implicit bias training, conflict resolution, and promoting work flexibility. The group also identified several promising practices, such as diversity toolkits and emerging practices, e.g., unconscious bias training for search committees, and hiring and promotions safeguards (see Figure 4). A key recommendation from that group is that each federal agency should exercise leadership at all levels in increasing representation of women.
Marlene Kaplan, deputy director of education, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), described the number of women participating in the STEMM workforce within NOAA. Currently, women make up about 25 percent of the STEMM civilian labor force, and while progress has been made in terms of increasing the numbers, there is still much work to be done.
Kaplan discussed NOAA’s Hollings and EPP Undergraduate Scholarships and paid internship programs, where between 130 and 160 students participate each year, including about 10 percent from underrepresented groups. An evaluation of outcomes of participants from these programs found that 75 percent go to graduate school and 86 percent hope to work at NOAA. Participants had more publications and presentations than students who did not participate in the program. Scholarship programs can serve as effective mechanisms for broadening participation, particularly if they champion students early in the process, connect across programs, and use data to inform program efforts.
Diann McCants, senior scientist and analyst, Strategic Analysis Incorporated, discussed her work on improving diversity and inclusion within federal agencies, adding that action on the federal level is guided by legislation and authorities. For example, the America Competes Act of 2010 established a committee on STEMM education. Fourteen federal agencies participated, developing the first strategic plan to guide action between 2013 and 2018. In addition, in December 2019 a new federal strategic plan was finalized, Charting a Course for Success: America’s Strategy for STEM Education.11 One of the goals of the plan is to “increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM and provide all Americans with lifelong access to high-quality STEM education, especially those historically underserved and underrepresented in STEM fields and employment.”12
McCants noted that there are challenges in addressing the issue of diversity and inclusion across federal agen-
cies, as each agency has a different mission and often approaches challenges in a siloed fashion. Working together will facilitate the exchange of ideas, broaden capacity, and leverage resources, as mandates do not always come with the funding. Overall, there is recognition among federal agencies that more can be accomplished.
Ashley Bear, senior program officer, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, closed the symposium by referencing a comment by Dr. Shalala that a National Academies report can have an impact when it coincides with a movement or moment time. She added that the strong participation at the symposium and on social media is evidence of such a movement.
Bear asked participants to remain engaged as the committee writes their report, adding that they will need support with dissemination to move the needle in increasing women’s participation and success in STEMM.
DISCLAIMER: This Proceedings of a Symposium—in Brief was prepared by Jennifer Saunders as a factual summary of what occurred at the meeting. The statements made are those of the rapporteur or individual meeting participants and do not necessarily represent the views of all meeting participants, the committee, or the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
COMMITTEE ON ADDRESSING THE UNDERREPRESENTATION OF WOMEN IN SCIENCE, ENGINEERING, AND MEDICINE: MAE JEMISON (NAM) (Chair), 100 Year Starship; DIANA BILIMORIA, Case Western Reserve University; JOHN C. BOOTHROYD (NAS), Stanford University School of Medicine; PHYLLIS L. CARR, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital; SAPNA CHERYAN, University of Washington; JAIME CURTIS-FISK, The Dow Chemical Company; ELENA FUENTES-AFFLICK (NAM), University of California, San Francisco (resigned November 2019); IRENE FONSECA, Carnegie Mellon University; ANN Q. GATES, The University of Texas; KELLY M. MACK, Project Kaleidoscope and Association of American Colleges and Universities; RONKE OLABISI, University of California, Irvine; PATRICIA RANKIN, University of Colorado, Boulder; KEIVAN G. STASSUN, Vanderbilt University; DENISE SEKAQUAPTEWA, University of Michigan; SONYA T. SMITH, Howard University; STEVEN J. SPENCER, The Ohio State University; ABIGAIL J. STEWART, University of Michigan.
REVIEWERS: To ensure that it meets institutional standards for quality and objectivity, this Proceedings of a Symposium—in Brief was reviewed by EVE FINE, University of Wisconsin, and MURIEL POSTON, Pitzer College. MARILYN BAKER, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, served as the review coordinator.
SPONSORS: This symposium was supported by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and L’Oreal USA.
For additional information regarding the activities of the Committee on Addressing the Underrepresentation of Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine, visit https://www.nationalacademies.org/cwsem/committee-on-women-inscience-engineering-and-medicine.
Suggested citation: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Evidence-Based Interventions for Addressing the Underrepresentation of Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine: Proceedings of a Symposium–in Brief. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: https://doi.org/10.17226/25786.
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