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Women and Minorities in Science (10-4-02)

As the economy becomes increasingly technology driven, some groups of the population are missing out on this boom.  Women, minorities, and people with disabilities have not historically entered the science, engineering, and technology fields in levels equivalent to these groups' portions of the population.  Congress and the federal government, through the Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering, and Technology (CAWMSET), have begun to study the problem and to understand what can be done to encourage women, minorities, and people with disabilities to enter the science, engineering, and technology fields.  CAWMSET released its recommendations in the summer of 2000.

Most Recent Action
On July 24, 2002, the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space, chaired by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), held a hearing to discuss women and the barriers they face in careers in math, science, and technology. Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) noted in his opening remarks that it has been twenty years since the Senate has held a hearing of this nature. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that only 10% of the 2 million scientists and engineers in the US are women. Such statistics demonstrate the lack of representation by women in areas requiring science and math backgrounds. One identified cause to this gender disparity is that schools are failing to foster interest in the subjects of math and science among girls. Two panels discussed this problem and provided recommendations, including Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and four prominent women leaders. (8/2/02)

On July 17, 2001, the National Council for Research on Women (NCRW) held a press conference announcing the release of their new report, Balancing the Equation: Where Are Women and Girls in Science, Engineering, and Technology? Although progress has been made in some areas of science, the report recognizes that some of women's gains over the past few decades have eroded, especially in the fields of engineering and computer science.  It outlines and analyzes strategies to attract and retain women and girls to science and technological fields as well as noting the many reasons that increased participation by women and girls in the sciences would improve the field.  Speaking at the press conference were a number of women representative of past, present, and future gains for women in science.  The speakers included Rep. Constance Morella (R-MD); Sally Ride, the first woman in space and current President and CEO of Imaginary Lines; Rita Colwell, Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF); and Mariangela Lisanti, winner of the Intel Science Talent Search 2001.  From a wide range of backgrounds, each of the speakers gave their perspective on the current state of women in science, and what measures and strategies might help improve women and girls' position in the sciences.  The press release for the report is available at the NCRW website.  (7/23/01)


President Clinton signed H.R. 3007, the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering, and Technology Development Act into law (P.L. 105-255) on October 16, 1998. Introduced by Rep. Connie Morella (R-MD) on September 9, 1997, the bill established a commission to study the barriers that women, minorities, and persons with disabilities face in entering and remaining in the science, engineering, and technology (SET) workforce. The commission identified and examined the number of women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in these fields to determine the specific areas in which they are underrepresented. The commission also researched and described the practices of employers regarding the recruitment, retention, and advancement of women in SET areas, then determined if these practices are comparable to their male counterparts. Finally, within 18 months of appointment, the commission issued recommendations to the government, academia, and private industry. A similar bill, S. 2479, was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) on September 16, 1998.

The version of H.R. 3007 that was signed into law varied slightly from the original bill, which focused primarily on women in SET, but an amendment by Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ) added minorities and persons with disabilities -- two other underrepresented groups in the sciences -- to the study. In addition, the composition of the commission changed to consist of seven SET businesspeople and four educators appointed by the President, congressional majority and minority leadership, and the National Governors' Association. The commission was to be dissolved 30 days after submitting its report.  Additional background information is available at the AGI's Update on Women and Minorities in Science from the 106th Congress.

CAWMSET Recommendations
On July 13, 2000, CAWMSET released the awaited recommendations on how to improve the incorporation of women, minorities, and people with disabilities into the workforce.  At a press conference, members of the commission discussed some of the recommendations:

The full report and a brochure (in PDF) that summarizes some of the findings and recommendations, as well a  information on the commission is available at the CAWMSET website.

As stipulated in the legislation, members of CAWMSET were appointed by governors and congressional leadership from both parties, as well as by the executive office.  The Commission includes ten men and women active primarily in the private sector of technology and science. Dr. Kathryn Johnson is the lone geoscientist on the Commission, who was appointed by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (SD).  She received her Ph.D. in geology from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and, currently, works as an environmental consultant.  Dr. Johnson is currently the owner and project manager of MATRIX Consulting Group in Rapid City, South Dakota. She serves South Dakota as a gubernatorial appointee to the State Board of Minerals and Environment and is a member of the National Research Council's Committee on Women in Science and Engineering.

National Science and Technology Council Report
In 1998, the Clinton Administration launched an effort aimed at increasing diversity in the nation's federal science and engineering workforce. At a September 10, 1998, ceremony honoring the recipients of the 1998 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring, President Clinton directed the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) to develop recommendations within 180 days on how to achieve greater diversity throughout our scientific and technical work force. During the ceremony, President Clinton noted that "in science, engineering, and mathematics, minorities, women, and people with disabilities are still grossly under-represented, even though we are becoming an ever more diverse society...if we are serious about having the finest scientists, mathematicians, and engineers in the world, we can't leave anybody behind." He stressed the importance of mentoring to achieve this goal. Clinton mentioned that the federal government supports the work of tens of thousands of scientists, which could be a tremendous resource of mentors.

The NSTC study aimed to increase mentoring by the federal government in scientific and technical fields by recommending linkages and improvements to existing federal higher education programs. It also sought to expand federal participation with the private sector and the academic community to strengthen mentoring in higher education to ensure education and career success.  The report, entitled "Ensuring a Strong U.S. Scientific, Technical, and Engineering Workforce in the 21st Century," was released on April 11, 2000.  According to a statement released by Dr. Neal Lane, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, the report "reaches two fundamental conclusions about our science, technology, and engineering workforce: First, these workers are essential to both the private and public sectors.  In the private sector, they help propel the economy and provide valuable services.  In the public sector, scientific, technical and engineering workers support important Federal missions. Second, it is in the national interest to vigorously pursue the development of domestic science, technology, and engineering workers from all ethnic and gender groups."

National Academy of Sciences Report on Women and Science
Also in 2000, The National Academy of Science released a report entitled, "Who Will Do the Science of the Future?: A Symposium on Careers of Women in Science" (full text of report). Released by the Committee on Women in Science and Engineering of the National Research Council, the report was the documentation of a symposium which aimed to evaluate the current status of women in the sciences and make suggestions for improvement.  The 2000 symposium presented four panels addressing a variety of major issues for women and the sciences.   The first was entitled "Science for All Students" and focused on the role of science in the next generation of students.  Panelist Dr. Leon M. Lederman, Director Emeritus of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, spoke about science in high school curricula, where he advocated a dramatic reform in high school science education.  In most high schools in the nation, science is taught as a series of three required classes, first biology, then chemistry, then physics.  One of the major changes Dr. Lederman suggested is a change to the "physics first" system of teaching science, where instead physics is the first course in the sequence, providing a basis for scientific thought that will serve students throughout the rest of their science education.

Rounding out the first panel, Richard Tapia, Professor of Computational and Applied Mathematics at Rice University, spoke about minority issues for women in the "hard sciences" (mathematical sciences, physics, and computer science), and Marcia C. Linn, Professor of Development and Cognition at the University of California at Berkeley, gave a presentation on taking advantage of science controversies to generate excitement about the sciences and make science more accessible.

The second panel, entitled "An In-Depth View of Computer Science," looked at the issues of one particular field of science. National Academy of Engineering President William Wulf gave an academic perspective on the declining percentage of women in computer science, presenting some somewhat discouraging data about the drop-off in numbers of women computer science students and professionals.  Lilian Shiao-Yen Wu, Consultant to Corporate Technical Strategy Development at IBM and member of the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology, gave an accompanying presentation from an industry standpoint about the low numbers of women computer scientists.  She cited the focus of computer science curricula on technical understanding of the computer as the culprit for pushing many women away from the field.  Wu was able to present some encouraging statistics about the substantial contributions of women who do enter the field of computer science and the positive nature of the atmosphere of the field itself.

The third panel took the form of a round-table discussion of "Strategies and Policies to Recruit, Retain, and Advance Women Scientists."  Howard Georgi, Professor of Physics at Harvard University, outlined a theory of unconscious discrimination against women in science based on the idea that scientist selection procedures select for qualities that are less common or evident in women for cultural reasons, such as assertiveness and single-mindedness.  Recognizing that he was treading on somewhat dangerous ground, Georgi proceeded to follow a train of thought as to why this might be the case, and advocated a change in the way we evaluate good scientists as opposed to a change in the way women should behave.  Karen Uhlenbeck, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Texas at Austin, spoke about the Mentoring Program for Women in Mathematics held annually at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.  Connected with the Institute for Advanced Study/Park City Mathematics Institute, it is a 10-day program for high school and college teachers, undergraduate and graduate mathematics students, and research mathematicians designed to allow women in these positions to discuss readings, ask questions, and participate in problem sessions and working groups that focus on both the breadth and limitations of the mathematics community.  Finally, Mildred Dresselhaus, Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, spoke about MIT's experience at strategies to recruit, retain, and advance women scientists, which she considers to be one of the more promising systems in the nation.

The last panel, "Advancing Women into Science Leadership," was a presentation by M.R.C. Greenwood, Chancellor of the University of California at Santa Cruz.  Greenwood reflected on her own experiences as a budding scientist in a time when there were few female science role models, and also addressed what she sees as today's issues: participation, guidance, leadership, and continuing to attract women into the fields of science.

Hearing Summaries

Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Science,
Technology, and Space
Hearing on Women in Science and Technology
July 24, 2002

Bottom Line
On July 24, 2002, the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space, chaired by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), held a hearing to discuss women and the barriers they face in careers in math, science, and technology. Apparently it has been twenty years since the Senate has held a hearing of this nature. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported that only 10% of the 2 million scientists and engineers in the US are women. Such statistics demonstrate the lack of representation by women in areas requiring science and math backgrounds. One identified cause to this gender disparity is schools failing to foster interest in the subjects of math and science among girls. To discuss this problem and to provide recommendations were two panels including Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and four prominent women leaders.

Senators Present
Ron Wyden (D-OR), John Edwards (D-NC), and George Allen (R-VA)

Hearing Summary
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) began his opening statement expressing his amazement that the last hearing on this topic took place twenty years ago. As chairman of the Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space, Wyden wants to set a goal aimed at tripling the number of women graduating with degrees in math, science, and technology degrees over the next decade. Wyden said he was convinced that the "underrepresentation of women in these fields did not happen by accident-women have been actively discouraged from careers in math, science, and technology." He said the purpose of this hearing was for women leaders to enlighten the subcommittee on the "hows and whys of this issue," to provide recommendations that will help "rock the boat and stay at it until there is real, measurable change," and to help in the effort of breaking society's stereotypes.

The first panel consisted of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) who said that women are being "held back" and thus stressed need to promote and encourage women's interest in science and technology at an early age. Currently women face barriers not only before entering the field of science and technology, but afterwards as well. Boxer said that these barriers indicate the presence of a glass ceiling preventing career advancement.

The first to speak in the second panel was Dr. Kristina M. Johnson, Dean of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University. Johnson delineated three main barriers preventing more women and minorities from promising careers in science and technology: (1) lack of fundamental math and science standards in high school curricula, (2) lack of inspiring role models and opportunities that cultivate interest, and (3) lack of equal access to financial aid and child care for women in graduate school. In response to these barriers, Johnson also provided possible solution that included a more rigorous curricula requiring four years of math and at least one year of biology, chemistry, and physics in high school as well as providing equal opportunity for financial aid and child care for women in graduate schools.

Kay Koplovitz, founder and principle of Koplovitz and Company, chair of the National Women's Business Council, and founder of USA Networks, provided an entrepreneurial perspective on the lack of women in science and technology. Fueled by disbelief that in 1997 only 1.7% of the venture capital in a booming market was going towards women entrepreneurs, Koplovitz embarked on an investigation to figure out why. What she found was that venture capitalists were simply not looking for women, while simultaneously women were not aware of venture capital. Since then, Koplovitz started an organization called Springboard aimed at helping women entrepreneurs achieve recognition in the business arena. The tripling of women-led firms from 1997 to 2000 (representing 6% of the total) marks some progress. Koplovitz expressed the need for policy to insure the success of women in the business world. She pointed out the importance of Title IX and how it would play an important role in providing opportunities for women in leadership roles. Some of her recommendation for the Federal Government included continued support for Title IX, to support Small Business Administration's SBIC funds, and procurement.

Nancy Stueber, President of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry focused on the importance of educating, encouraging, and providing girls with equal opportunities from an early age. The marked decrease in interest in science, math, and technology among girls from kindergarten to fourth grade is a disturbing trend that emphasizes the need to promote positive experiences and expectations in girls and women. She stressed the need to provide girls with rich science learning experiences and to start setting expectations that inspire interest in science and technology. There is also a need for teachers trained in gender equity issues and more female mentors and role models. Stueber's main message was that an increase in women in science and technology-based careers stems from investing in positive experiences and expectation for girls at a young age.

The final testimony was provided by Ana Maria Boitel chair of the Women in Technology, an organization involved in promoting and supporting girls and women in science and technology. Cultural discouragement to excel in math and science was identified as a major problem as well as the lack of senior women role models. Therefore, women leaders in technology companies are important in inspiring young women. She also pointed out the need for more women professors in science and engineering departments of universities.

Following the testimonies was the question and answer session. Wyden asked how institutions could be held accountable for contributing to the lack of women in science and technology. Johnson suggested a national investigation for biases, especially in schools receiving federal funding under Title IX. Koplovitz suggested looking at the gender distribution of appointed administrative positions at universities as decisions by administrations directly affect students, professors, and staff. Sen. Allen pointed out that there are certain sciences, such as psychology, where interest by women is more common. Johnson explained this trend reflects how women are attracted to science and technology that holds relevance to society. Therefore, she suggested national centers that apply science and technology to a greater good as a way for the government to attract more women into the field. Koplovitz added the development of science and technology aimed at preventing assault against women as another example that would encourage women involvement. When asked by Wyden what action needs to be taken in terms of education, Stueber said because teachers possess the most influential role, a training program for teachers is needed. Wyden closed the hearing with encouraging remarks as he urged everyone to "keep the heat on Congress" with hopes in achieving the goal of tripling the number of women in science and technology in the next ten years.


Sources:  Triangle Coalition, House Science Committee, CAWMSET website, press release materials, Association for Women Geoscientists, and National Academy of Science.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at

Contributed by Kasey Shewey White, David Applegate and Margaret A. Baker, AGI Government Affairs, AGI/AIPG Geoscience Policy Intern Althea Cawley-Murphree, AGI/AIPG Geoscience Policy Summer 2001 Intern Caetie Ofiesh, AGI/AIPG Geoscience Policy Summer 2002 Intern Evelyn Kim, and AGI/AAPG Geoscience Policy Fall 2002 Intern Annette Veilleux.

Last Updated October 4, 2002

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