The University Record, February 27, 1996

Significant changes necessary for women to achieve equity in scientific, technical fields

By Sally Pobojewski
News and Information Services

 

Significant changes by research institutions and the funding agencies that support their work will be necessary before women in scientific and technical fields can achieve equity with their male colleagues, according to a policy report released by the Cross University Research in Engineering and Science (CURIES) group.

The report includes five key recommendations for researchers and policy-makers, that were developed during a 1994 conference coordinated by the CURIES working group of scholars from Carnegie-Mellon University, the University of Michigan, the University of Washington and Wellesley College. The conference was funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

"To become an enabler, not a roadblock, to the participation of women in science and technology, we believe that institutions need to change in fundamental ways," says Carol S. Hollenshead, director of the Center for the Education of Women (CEW), which administered the project. Hollenshead is one of seven authors of the CURIES report titled "The Equity Agenda: Women in Science, Mathematics and Engineering."

"In the old days, we believed that if we taught women the rules, they would succeed," says Cinda-Sue Davis, co-author of the report and director of CEW's Women in Science and Engineering Program. "Then we began to realize that the problem is not so much that women need to change the way they approach science, but that institutions themselves need to change."

The five major recommendations :

 

Focus on institutional change to achieve gender equity in science, mathematics and engineering.

 

Move from an emphasis on research to a focus on action and accountability.

 

Reframe problems and solutions to recognize the issue of diversity of people in science, mathematics and engineering.

 

Revise our view of the standard linear pipeline of science and engineering education and allow numerous possible entry points.

 

Give top priority to sustainable improvements that become integral to institutional operations. This is especially important given the limited resources of time, energy and funding available.

In the area of accountability, the group recommends that funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health give priority in the award of fellowships to institutions that demonstrate success at graduating and awarding degrees to women.

"Funding agencies would not continue supporting a researcher who never completes his or her experiment," Hollenshead says. "Research and training go hand-in-hand in educational institutions. There should be similar accountability with regard to the preparation of future scientists."

The group also recommends more creative, flexible entry points to a career in science or engineering, with special attention given to the non-traditional educational paths taken by community college students, women in the armed services or older women returning to school.

CURIES also strongly recommends additional research on issues related to race and gender in science, Davis says. "What little research data we have applies largely to white, upper-class women. We need to think in terms of race and socioeconomic class as well as gender."

"Our ultimate goal," Hollenshead says, "is to ensure that all those who wish to serve as scientists, mathematicians or engineers have full access to that opportunity."

The information in the CURIES report will be published this spring as a chapter in The Equity Equation: Fostering the Advancement of Women in Science, Mathematics and Engineering, by Jossey-Bass Publishers.