The House Science Committee passed H.R. 3007, the Advancement of Women in Science, Engineering, and Technology Development Act on May 14, 1998. Introduced by Rep. Connie Morella (R-MD) o n September 9, 1997, the bill would establish a commission to study the barriers that women face in science, engineering, and technology. The commission would identify and examine the number of women in these fields to determine the specific areas in whic h they are underrepresented. The commission would also research and describe the practices of employers regarding the recruitment, retention, and advancement of women in these areas then determine if these practices are comparable to their male counterpar ts. Finally, within 18 months of appointment, the commission would issue recommendations to the government, academia, and private industry.
The Commission would be composed of 18 members as follows: The Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, who will serve as chair; The Director of the National Science Foundation; The Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Ad ministration.; The Secretary of Energy; The Under Secretary of Commerce for Technology; The Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere; The Director of the National Institutes of Health; 3 members appointed jointly by the Speaker of the House o f Representatives and the majority leader of the Senate; 1 member appointed by the majority leader of the House of Representatives; 1 member appointed by the minority leader of the House of Representatives; 1 member appointed by the majority leader of the Senate; 1 member appointed by the minority leader of the Senate; 2 Members of the House of Representatives, appointed jointly by the majority leader and the minority leader of the House of Representatives; 2 Senators appointed jointly by the majority lea der and the minority leader of the Senate.
The bill would also direct the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study the educational opportunities available to women who want to enter the fields of science, math, and engineering. Within a year, NSF would issue recommendations to Congress on way s to improve educational opportunities for women.
The bill has 13 bipartisan cosponsors. The House Science Committee Subcommittees on Technology and Basic Research held a joint hearing on the bill on March 10. The bill has also been referred to the Committee on Education and the Workforce. HR 3007 has been endorsed by the American Association of Engineering Societies, American Chemical Society, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers --USA.
House Science Committee
March 10, 1998
Ms. Belkis Leong-Hong, President-Elect of Women in Technology
Ms. Catherine Didion, Executive Director of Association for Women in Science
Professor Ann Quade, Mankato State University
Monica Moman-Saunders, P.E. for Louisville Gas and Electric Company
Subcommittee on Technology Chair Connie Morella (R-MD)
Subcommittee on Basic Research Ranking Member Rep. James Barcia (D-MI)
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX)
Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI)
Rep. Chip Pickering (R-MS)
Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-MN)
Rep. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD)
Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-NC)
Rep. Morella opened the hearing by explaining that "significant progress has been made in integrating women into the scientific and engineering fields...but overall the numbers are still low." T he percentage of women engineers is still under 10 percent, and the number of female computer science Ph.D. recipients has never risen above 17 percent. She also noted that women are not evenly distributed through the scientific workforce. For example, wo men account for more than half of the sociologists and psychologists, but only 9 percent of the physicists. Morella spoke about the "significant shortfall of high-tech trained workers" and "the fact that women are entering these professions at rates well below those of men mean that we are losing an enormous labor-pool, which could contribute greatly to addressing the information technology labor shortage." Morella introduced H.R. 3007 to better understand what is keeping women out of these professions, a nd what actions can be done to solve this problem.
Rep. Chip Pickering echoed Morella's comments in his opening statement. Rep. Barcia noted that 5 of the 11 members of the subcommittee are women. Rep. Ehlers stated that as part of his Scie nce Policy Study, he is looking into the factors that create problems for women in science, and noted that "we have a whole culture to change."
Ms. Leong-Hong spoke about the tremendous growth in membership in Women in Technology and their successful mentoring program. She also spoke of her personal experience as female scient ist within the Department of Defense. She stated: "throughout my career, I have met both adversity and advocacy. I have had to work largely without female role models and mentors. I received little management education."
Ms. Didion testified on the challenges women face in education. For example, girls who are having trouble with math or science generally are told their difficulties are normal, rather than bei ng challenged to improve. Didion reported that "by age nine, girls already lag behind boys in their hands-on experiences of science; by thirteen, they are less likely to engage in activities which indicate pleasure and interest in science." In college, wo men are more strongly affected than men by the absence of positive feedback from their teachers and lack of attention from their departments. Mentoring projects have been shown to help address those problems.
Didion also addressed the cultural roles affecting women in science. She stated: "Instead of blaming women's underrepresentation in science on their multiple roles or inherent incapacity, society must adopt a systemic approach to increasing the number of women in science and improving their prospects once there. Fundamental change is needed in expectations within and beyond the scientific community so that women can make realistic decisions to enter and stay in science."
She suggested promoting mentoring systems with reward systems, such as small federal stipends for participants. Didion also encouraged career flexibility, and argued both men and women must confront issues such as child care, elder care, and dual caree r constraints. Finally, she recommended conducting better research on the advancement of women in science and holding companies accountable for their treatment of women.
Quade, a computer science professor, testified on the increasing "lack of a knowledgeable labor force in the computer field." Although the job placement of recent computer science graduates during the 1997-1998 school year at Mankato State was 100 perc ent, the number of computer science majors has decreased. Quade stated that nationwide "the number of undergraduate computer science degrees awarded to men from 1986 to 1994 decreased 35 percent while women receiving undergraduate degrees during that time decreased 54 percent." She concluded by noting that these trends have continued at her university through 1997.
Ms. Moman-Saunders testified on behalf of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. She referred to a 1996 NSF study that reported that women remain more underrepresentated in engi neering than any other field. Women comprise only 6 percent of mechanical engineers, and 10 percent of the engineering workforce overall. Moman-Saunders emphasized the importance of mentoring and outreach.
Question and Answer
Morella began the question and answer period by asking the witnesses how H.R. 3007 would be effective in advancing women in math and science. Leong-Hong replied that there is a lot we do not know about the experiences of women in science careers. She has personally found that many of her experiences -- which she previously thought were isolated -- are prevalent. Didion suggested that the bill focus on obtaining data on the retention of women in these fields, rather than just the attraction. Quade expresse d her frustration that she couldn't find much data on the computer science profession. Moman-Saunders felt the study would increase the awareness of the barriers women face in math and science. She also suggested training teachers and counselors to work o n this issue and creating mentoring programs.
Rep. Johnson asked what role the government can play in affecting the private sector. Moman-Saunders again stressed the importance of increasing awareness of this issue, and noted that even if it does not change the attitude of the current generation, it may be effective in shaping the ideas of future generations. Didion thought the federal government could work to better enforce regulations that currently exist. For example, she suggested having an appropriate number of women presenting and speaking a t federal forums.
Rep. Gutknetch spoke about the need for better understanding by the general public of careers in math and science and breaking the stereotype of the "math nerd." Quade responded that internships -- in college and high school -- broaden a student's know ledge base, as do partnerships between schools and industry.
Rep. Bartlett --who has received 20 patents for his engineering work -- stated that the fact that the next space shuttle commander is a woman will do more to help women in science than any regulation. He expressed his belief that education should be ad dressed at a local level, and it is not the government's job to "sensitize" or educate the private sector on these issues.
Sources: Hearing testimony
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Contributed by Kasey Shewey, AGI Government Affairs
Posted March 18, 1998; Last updated May 14, 1998
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