American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program


Women and Minorities In Science Update and Hearing Summary (12-15-98)

Recent Action

President Clinton signed H.R. 3007, the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering, and Technology Development Act into law (PL 105-255) on October 16. Introduced by Rep. Connie Morella (R-MD) on September 9, 1997, the bill would establish a commission to study the barriers that women, minorities, and persons with disabilities face in science, engineering, and technology. The commission would identify and examine the number of women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in these fields to determine the specific areas in which 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 counterparts. Finally, within 18 months of appointment, the commission would issue 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 law varied slightly from the original bill when signed. H.R. 3007 originally focused solely on women in science, 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 science, engineering, or technology businesspeople and four educators appointed by the President, Congressional majority and minority leadership, and the National Governors' Association. The commission will be dissolved 30 days after submitting its report.

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.

In other news, President Clinton directed for 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.

House Science Committee
March 10, 1998

Witness list
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

Members Present
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)

Opening statement
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, women 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, and 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 Science 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."

Testimony

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 scientist 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 being 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, women 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 career 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 percent, 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 underrepresented in engineering 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 expressed 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.

National Science and Technology Council Report
The Clinton Administration has launched a similar effort aimed at increasing diversity in the nation's federal science and engineering workforce. At a September 10 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 aims 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 seeks to expand federal participation with the private sector and the academic community to strengthen mentoring in higher education to ensure education and career success.

Sources: Hearing testimony, Triangle Coalition, House Science Committee


Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at govt@agiweb.org.

Contributed by Kasey Shewey White, AGI Government Affairs
Posted March 18, 1998; Last updated December 15, 1998


  Information Services |Geoscience Education |Public Policy |Environmental
Geoscience
 |
Publications |Workforce |AGI Events


agi logo

© 2014. All rights reserved.
American Geosciences Institute, 4220 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22302-1502.
Please send any comments or problems with this site to: webmaster@agiweb.org.
Privacy Policy