Research on the barriers and opportunities for women in STEM
often focuses on national or regional concerns. In today’s international
community, however, this approach may fall short when it comes to addressing the
specific needs of women in different countries, and transcending
borders so as to better examine wide-reaching issues.
In April of last year, the Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine (CWSEM) of the National Research Council held a workshop to position women’s careers in science in a global context, highlighting areas for intervention and change. This week, the committee is reconvening to commemorate last year’s findings, and point to the way to further strengthen the global position of women in STEM fields.
Last year’s landmark event focused on what is currently happening with women in science positions around the world, specifically in math and statistics, chemistry, and computer science. The workshop aimed to understand and present these three particular STEM fields in terms of gendered workforce, graduation rates, and academic degrees. While the gap between men and women in STEM is no secret, confronting the numbers still makes for a staggering exercise: according to the research coming out of the workshop, 50% of US men with doctoral degrees in mathematics hold full professorships, as compared to 20% of women with the same credentials. In addressing the ratio between women and high-paying science positions, the relationship between race/ethnicity and gender, and the lack of research on women in STEM, the global context workshop made efforts to pinpoint social policies that could increase female participation in science. Among the suggestions were proposals to purposefully promote traditionally “masculine” careers to female students and traditionally “feminine” professions to male students, as well as to maintain gender balance in teaching staff to encourage diverse role models. At the same time, the workshop remained sensitive to international issues and the unique struggles women face dependent on their nationality. Mariko Ogawa of Mie University in Japan offered a cross-cultural comparison looking at how both Barbie and her popular Japanese counterpart marketed and characterized as being poor at math. Ogawa’s presentation helped to illuminate commonalities among women scientists that extend beyond national borders, which was another goal of the workshop.
Tomorrow, a report summarizing the 2011 workshop will be launched in Washington, DC. The report will be reinforced by nine individually authored papers that all speak to women’s issues in STEM in a global framework. Remarks will be made by CWSEM chairman and National Academy of Sciences member Dr. Rita Colwell, distinguished professor at the University of Maryland, College Park and Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. Further remarks will be made by Dr. Willie Pearson, Jr., professor of sociology at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Dr. Susan Gardner, deputy director of the Office of Science and Technology Cooperation at the U.S. Department of State.
You can learn more about the “Blueprint for the Future: Framing the Issues of Women in Science in a Global Context: Summary of a Workshop” report, the launch event, and the original 2011 workshop at CWSEM’s website.