The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a consensus study report in early 2020 titled: Promising Practices for Addressing the Underrepresentation of Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine: Opening Doors.
The report was the culmination of a two-year effort to review and synthesize existing research for improving the recruitment, retention, and advancement of women in STEMM. With a specific focus on promoting systemic change, the report considered why promising practices identified in prior research have not been implemented by more higher-education institutions. The report also emphasized the experiences of women of color and women from other marginalized groups, noting that women with intersecting identities face multiple barriers in STEMM. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Policy and Global Affairs; the Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine; and the Committee on Increasing the Number of Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine contributed to the report.
Based on the analysis of research on the factors that drive the gender disparities seen in STEMM through education and career, the report presented six conclusions:
- Women, especially women of color, are underrepresented in the STEMM workforce when compared with the demographics of the U.S. population.
- Bias, discrimination, and harassment are major drivers of the underrepresentation of women in STEMM, and women of intersecting identities (e.g., women of color and LGBTQ+ women) experience this more severely.
- Despite improvements in women’s representation in STEMM, underrepresentation is still prevalent at most institutions.
- Much research has been done on effective, evidence-based strategies and practices to improve the recruitment, retention, and advancement of white women in STEMM, but more research is needed to understand how to support women of intersecting identities.
- Educational strategies, particularly those that challenge stereotypes about who is successful in STEMM and what constitutes the work that they do, are important to improving the recruitment and retention of women in STEMM.
- Institutional adoption of promising practices to improve the recruitment, retention, and advancement of women in STEMM often include committed leadership at all levels, dedicated financial and human resources, accountability and data collection, and an approach that explicitly and concretely addresses the challenges faced by women of color.
While much of the report focuses on the higher-education community, the report authors stated that many of the ideas and recommendations presented could be adopted or adapted by those in the private sector. The committee offered nine recommendations, noting that, while much of the leadership required to implement promising practices falls to faculty and administrators, the policy community has the power to encourage innovation and action to reduce gender inequities in STEMM.
While numerous, the recommendations were categorized under the following four broad categories:
- The legislative and executive branches of the U.S. government, including federal agencies, should drive public transparency and accountability by requiring institutions to collect, analyze, and report on the nature, impact, and degree of investment they are making to address gender disparities in STEMM.
- Institutions should adopt a targeted data-driven approach to close the gender gap in STEMM, disaggregating by gender and race/ethnicity to diagnose specific problems affecting women of intersecting identities. This information should be used to develop effective policies and practices that support and promote an inclusive climate, with the goal of formally institutionalizing them so that they are iterative and sustainable over time.
- Equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts should be prioritized, rewarded, recognized, and sufficiently resourced in ways that promote cultural change. In this way, leaders of academic and government institutions, private foundations, and professional and honorific societies can help foster an inclusive culture to recognize and celebrate those who are improving gender equity in STEMM.
- While much scholarly research exists on gender disparities in STEMM, there are still critical knowledge gaps that must be filled. Specifically, more research is needed on topics such as the intersectional experiences of women (e.g., women of color and women of other intersecting identities), the strategies and practices that can support women of intersecting identities, the factors that contribute to the disproportionate benefit that white women have gained from efforts to achieve gender equity, the long-term impact of what research has identified as promising practices, and the characteristics of effective male allies.
The report includes ideas on how to implement each of the recommendations, presenting actionable items that are not aimed at “fixing the women,” but rather focus on the systemic changes needed to change STEMM culture. Most importantly, this report is not meant to sit on a shelf; The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are building on their findings to promote policy changes and address the research gaps identified. Visit the website of the Committee on Women in Science, Engineering and Medicine (https://bit.ly/3q3UbCs) to follow this work.
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2020). Promising Practices for Addressing the Underrepresentation of Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine: Opening Doors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.