This month has been a slow one in DC. Congress is in recess, there have been few briefings, panel discussions, or other opportunities to spread our message and raise awareness of the issues that lead women to leave STEM fields. So, we have been taking this opportunity to reach out and connect with new audiences, speaking to Congressional staff on the Hill as well as to other scientists and engineers. What has become very clear is that there is a problem with perceptions about the number and status of women in STEM fields. First off, while the data differ for each of the STEM disciplines, the general tendency is to lump all the fields together. However, we know that engineering and physics have a real pipeline problem compared to the life sciences.
We also know that one of the key reasons women leave the STEM workforce is lack of recognition. While women’s receipt of professional awards and prizes has increased in the past two decades, men continue to win a higher proportion of awards for scholarly research than expected based on their representation in the nomination pool. Part of the problem is that the pool of eligible women is perceived as being even smaller than it actually is, and this persistent misconception is pervasive across the political and scientific communities as well as the general public. In fact, we regularly get into heated debates because the perception becomes reality regardless of gender, discipline, or rank.
This is not to say that we haven’t had successes with the outcomes of our endeavors. When we began the AWARDS project, we worked with several scientific societies and helped identify specific ways each one could improve their nominations and selections processes. However, some have gone even above and beyond our recommendations. The Mathematical Association of America’s (MAA) Board has voted to adopt a double blind review process for their journals, about which we are ecstatic. Previousstudies have demonstrated that women are less likely to have their articles accepted when the reviewers know the gender of the author and we believe this will be an important step to increasing the frequency with which women publish in the MAA journal. The American Geophysical Union has also taken progressive steps towards increasing their transparency in the nomination and selection process and recently published these seven steps in their journal. For working to set the record straight and level the playing field, we applaud you.
Senator from South Sponsors Support for STEM
This summer AWIS worked with the staff of the chair of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship to craft legislation to support women and minorities in STEM with a competitive grant program. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) recognizes the importance of increased participation by underrepresented groups in STEM. By introducing this legislation as a part of her leadership on this particular committee she brings awareness to a different audience than where these issues usually come up, and we are enthusiastically supportive.
The bill, known as the Women and Minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Booster Act of 2012 (S.3475), authorizes $10 million for 3 years to the National Science Foundation for different activities designed to increase the participation of these groups in STEM fields. These include student and professional mentoring programs, online workshops, external internships for undergraduate and graduate students in STEM fields, and outreach programs for multiple levels of education to expose and attract more women and minorities to STEM disciplines. Eligible groups would include STEM departments in institutes of higher learning, groups that partner with university programs, and non-profits that represent membership in STEM.
Senator Landrieu is passionate about the importance of STEM entrepreneurship. She has previously sponsored other bills supporting Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) reauthorization programs as well as entrepreneurship and small business development. AWIS too feels strongly about the importance of innovation and economic opportunities that come with starting a tech business. To this end, we are working on developing an event to bring greater awareness to the obstacles women face in technology transfer. Women represent a low percentage of STEM workers compared to their participation in the overall workforce, but they represent an even smaller percentage of the number of patent holders.
Small Grassroots Movement Has Big Impact
Only two women have ever been trusted with the job of impartial and unbiased moderation of the presidential debates; Barbara Walters in 1976 and 1984 and Carol Simpson in 1992. The appointment of moderators is done by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), a bipartisan, non-profit organization that was established to sponsor and produce the presidential and vice presidential debates. The Commission has been criticized at different times for a lack of diversity and the failure to permit third party presidential candidates participation.
This spring, upon learning in civics class that there hadn’t been a female moderator in 20 years, three teens from New Jersey decided to try do something about it. They started a Change.Org petition for the inclusion of a woman moderator for the 2012 presidential election and received over 180,000 signatures. They came in person to the Washington DC, headquarters to present their petition to the CPD but were denied a meeting with the organization or even acknowledgement of the petition. However, they started a second petition, aimed at getting the Obama and Romney campaigns to put pressure on the CPD to appoint a woman.
The story gained attention and traction in the news and across social media. When the CPD announced the line-up of moderators for this presidential election debate cycle on August 13th, it included Candy Crowley, CNN’s Chief Political Correspondent. At AWIS we are excited to see a woman moderator and hope this will become the norm, rather than having to wait another 20 years. However, as most of the questions that are of interest to our membership aren’t likely to be addressed in these debates, we will be submitting our own questions to the candidates which will be published on our website and in a future AWIS in Action!
No sooner had the story broke and victory been declared, than other groups frustrated by a lack of diversity and representation began speaking out. As Jim Lehrer, for example, will be moderating his 12th debate, it’s easy to see why others would like an opportunity to have their questions answered. However, nobody has been complaining about the fact that science always gets the short stick in these debates. In the 2004 elections some 1400 questions were asked; exactly six mentioned science, and of those, three involved UFOs. Science Debate 2012 worked hard to try to get science issues into debate topics in 2008 and continues to voice the importance of this issue for the 2012 debate cycle. 85 percent of Americans think these questions are important and ought to be addressed, and as supporters of Science Debates, we agree.
M3 The Maddening Monthly Mention
* Pay Equity Deniers *
As it turns out, we in feminist organizations are obsessed with a myth. The wage gap, where women make 77 percent of what a man makes, is totally due to the fact that we don’t work as hard as men. We just have different priorities and discrimination has nothing to do with it. Poof! Who knew? Thank goodness we have hard-hitting journalists like Mr. Ramesh Ponnuru to set us straight on these issues. Otherwise we might be wasting our breath, complaining about inequity, when we could be home cleaning the floors and making dinner for our hard-working husbands and the babies we all want. Such was amply suggested by the discourse this week (though I really wish someone had told me in sex ed. that if I just didn’t want a baby my uterus could basically control that). Of course women only want jobs where we get to work with other people and take care of others. It’s all about the choices we women make to not work as hard so we can have the children.
Never mind the fact that study after study has demonstrated that the wage gap still exists even when one accounts for the fact that not as many women go into higher paying fields like engineering as men. It’s irrelevant that women in business, law, and industry struggle to get into the upper echelons of their organizations leadership positions (I only ever dream of being middle management myself). Never mind that in fields where women are in the majority, education and nursing for example, men still earn more. Pay no attention to the fact that even in fields with advanced degrees like medicine, after controlling for personal choices in disciplines and work hours, women still earn less than men.
This is not to say that discrimination is 100 percent of the problem. Women are often offered less to begin with (if that’s not discrimination, I’m not sure what we ought to call it), but are less likely to negotiate for a higher starting salary (in part because we tend to get penalized for that too). However, when across the board this trend is observed, and if you are a woman and a minority the disparity is even greater, one would think this might be at least something that should be discussed. Mr. Ponnuru goes on to observe, “Perhaps men should do more of the work of running households and raising children, and boys should be brought up with that expectation.” But he goes on to explain that businesses can’t be expected to make sure men do their part of the housecleaning and that frankly there is little any business can do to change the wage gap because it’s unfair of them to make those sorts of recommendations. Gosh, why didn’t I think of that? It’s certainly not like transparency is an issue. Lilly Ledbetter was a just fluke, one in 66 million who was being paid less than her male counterparts. There is no reason to try to get the government involved for something as silly as that.
Lastly, the earning disparity is really just a woman’s problem. It’s not as though 6 out 10 women in this county are the primary breadwinners. Don’t ask me what happened to those lazy 3 out 5 men, or 6 out of 10 for those of you that don’t want to have think about it because fractions and math are hard, who you would apparently expect to be the ones bringing home the big bacon. And it’s not like when women don’t earn as much as men, they still have the same amount to spend. Therefore, it’s not like paying women less hurts the whole economy or anything as silly as that. Whose idea is that whole trickle-down economics thing anyway? As Mr. Ponnuru concludes, “So we shouldn’t expect that 77 percent figure ever to rise to 100 -- or even want it to.” That is way beyond an outrage. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think my roast is burning.