Gender equality report card reveals systematic underrepresentation of women in STEM

Report cards on women in STEM fields finds much room for improvement
This figure shows the proportion of women among student, faculty, and committee populations across 541 surveyed institutions. Credit: Beeler et al./Cell Stem Cell

Teams from the New York Stem Cell Foundation Research Institute (NYSCF) and the University of Michigan have used the NYSCF Institutional Report Card for Gender Equality (Report Card) to evaluate the representation of women in STEM across more than 500 institutions over the past four years. NYSCF designed and collected the Report Cards and the University of Michigan analyzed the over 1,200 Report Cards received. The findings indicate that promotion, recruitment, and retention of women to senior roles are lacking, as are policies to support women in science.

"To reach treatments and cures, we need full participation in science and medicine," said NYSCF CEO Susan L. Solomon, JD, who co-led the study. "When women are prevented from reaching their full potential, the entire field suffers. We need 100% of the available brainpower to make the biggest impact and move research forward as quickly as possible."

The study resulted from NYSCF's Initiative on Women in Science and Engineering (IWISE), started by NYSCF in 2014 with support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, whose mission is to devise actionable strategies for advancing women in STEM. These strategies included an Institutional Report Card for Gender Equality, which NYSCF used through its extramural award program to collect about gender representation throughout the educational and academic pipeline (e.g. among students, professors, invited speakers) as well as qualitative data on institutional policies to support women in science. Over the past 4 years, 541 institutions in 38 countries have completed the Report Card.

Gender Imbalance at the Top: The Leaky Pipeline Persists

The Report Card results show that we are still a long way from in STEM. Women are well represented amongst undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate students (constituting over 50% of each population), but among faculty, as seniority increased, representation of women decreased (averaging 42% of assistant professors, 34.2% of associate professors, and 23.4% of full professors). Women made up less than 10% of tenured faculty recruits in nearly one-third of institutions. This data suggests that rather than recruiting women into STEM, the bigger issue appears to be retention and promotion of women into positions that allow them more influence, resources, and in turn, high-impact research.

Unfortunately, institutional gender equity did not improve over time. Among 71 institutions tracked over a period of more than 2 years, just over half improved their grades, but only by an average of 8%. Institutions whose grades worsened did so by the same amount, suggesting that overall, there were no significant or systematic changes in institutional practices over time.

Policies and Programs to Support Gender Equity are Emerging, but Limited

The actionable strategies put forth by IWISE include institutional policies that would be supportive of women in STEM. Among institutions surveyed, 38% offered additional support mechanisms for paid family leave, while some offered additional policies that addressed childcare, flexibility, funding, and career development initiatives.

"Many of these policies and programs—such as flexible family care spending, 'extra hands' funding, and gender-balanced peer review and speaker selection policies—align with the seven actionable strategies proposed by IWISE in 2015," explained NYSCF's Kristin Smith-Doody, co-author of the study. "We are excited to see some organizations implement these recommendations and hope to see widespread adoption in the future."

To support gender equity on decision-making committees, however, only 8% of institutions had an explicit minimum requirement, 16% had general policies to promote diversity, and 77% held no policies on the issue.

"Representation on strategic, decision-making committees is critical, both because it is important to have a diversity of viewpoints within these groups, and because participation in committees builds leadership skills and visibility that helps members advance their careers," noted University of Michigan's Reshma Jagsi, M.D., D.Phil., who co-led the study. Jagsi is director of the university's Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine.

While many of these results are sobering, the researchers believe that the process of collecting high-quality, comprehensive data through the Report Cards is helping assess the current landscape of gender equality in STEM, and encouraging institutions to establish a baseline. The Report Card is also shining a light on the issue and prompting institutions to think more about gender equity in STEM.

"Simply asking institutions to fill out this Report Card draws their attention to the gender equity issue, encouraging them to identify areas for improvement and make necessary changes," said Ms. Solomon. "In the beginning, many institutions told us that there was nowhere for them to go to find the information that we were requesting in the Report Card. In subsequent years, we heard that information on gender equity is now being tracked and is more easily accessible at the institutions."

What's Next?

The researchers will continue to use the report card to collect data, highlight best practices, and monitor changes in gender representation over time. They look forward to improving this tool and working with other organizations to identify strategies for fostering the success of women in STEM.

To encourage change at the institutional level, NYSCF aims to work with other funders to implement a 'recognition phase' for the Report Card modeled in part on the UK's Athena Swan charter, which confers awards of bronze, silver, or gold status to member institutions that have demonstrated good practices and meaningful interventions to advance gender equity. Case studies and independent surveys have shown that this initiative has positively impacted 's career progression in STEM, and the team hopes that establishing such a system in the United States will confer similar benefits.

"We remain committed to reaching equality in STEM, and to partnering with institutions to achieve this goal," remarked Ms. Solomon. "This is a large-scale, collaborative effort, and we must all work together to make it a reality."


Explore further

Seven strategies to advance women in science

More information: Cell Stem Cell, Beeler et al. "Institutional Report Cards for Gender Equality Results of a 4-Year Pilot to Encourage Benchmarking for Women in STEM." https://www.cell.com/cell-stem-cell/fulltext/S1934-5909(19)30345-5 , DOI: 10.1016/j.stem.2019.08.010
Journal information: Cell Stem Cell

Citation: Gender equality report card reveals systematic underrepresentation of women in STEM (2019, September 5) retrieved 15 September 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-09-gender-equality-card-reveals-systematic.html
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User comments

Sep 05, 2019
What I find interesting with studies like this about the under representation of women and minorities in STEM is that these racial/gender 'bean' counters could care less about the under representation of whites/hispanics/asians in the NFL and NBA. Seems kinda racists to me.

Sep 05, 2019
Or, it could just be that fewer women have the balls for these positions.
OK, I was being sarcastic and I do wish them success, but it appears that trying to accomplish it by force is unsustainable.

Sep 05, 2019
Expectation of equal opportunity is rational.
Expectation of equal results is irrational.

When we start to assume that an equal amount of women would want to do the same jobs as the same number of men, that is where the rationality falls apart.

Sep 05, 2019
or, it is rational of women to avoid the irrational, hormonal-driven violent histrionics of immature males
pretending to be adults with the expectations of inheritance of the collective male privileges & entitlements

it amazes the stratospheric level of hypocrisy
which is the main achievement hor the fake conservatives
& the fraudulent libertarians
(all altright fairytails)

who confuse their false claims of moral standards with the action of actually committing moral acts

their fear of honest competition & fair-play opportunities is a blatant indictment of fake patriot's parochial misogyny & racism

you envy those sports figures you are drooling over?
if you had a lick of gumption to work that hard?
you too could earn the right to be on the team
instead, you sit there whining excuses for your sloth

since you lack the moral character to accept self-responsibility?
you blame your own failings on women & minorities

Sep 05, 2019
rrwiilj, what in the world are you talking about? It's Equal Opportunity, NOT equal results. If you don't, can't or won't understand that, you're a part of a major lie holding us all back.

Sep 05, 2019
Expectation of equal opportunity is rational.
Expectation of equal results is irrational.

When we start to assume that an equal amount of women would want to do the same jobs as the same number of men, that is where the rationality falls apart.
The question then becomes, is this a societal bias?

Little girls are encouraged to play with dolls; little boys are not. Little boys get science boxes and are criticized for not being good at math. Little girls get more dolls and nobody cares if they're good at math.

Just sayin'.

Sep 06, 2019
Expectation of equal opportunity is rational.
Expectation of equal results is irrational.

When we start to assume that an equal amount of women would want to do the same jobs as the same number of men, that is where the rationality falls apart.
The question then becomes, is this a societal bias?

Little girls are encouraged to play with dolls; little boys are not. Little boys get science boxes and are criticized for not being good at math. Little girls get more dolls and nobody cares if they're good at math.

Just sayin'.

Nah, you're just brayin'. Now back to the fields you go. Get !

Sep 06, 2019
Yet another low-resolution study that discourages critical analysis of gender differences in the work place. No effort was put in to discovering how personal choices by women could explain the differences, like abandoning academic careers for more fulfilling pursuits. The study began and ended with the predetermined notion that societal and institutional prejudices prevent women from adopting careers as often as men.

I wonder how the researchers explain the gender disparity in elementary education where 77% of teachers are women? Or nursing where 92% are women? Or how they explain that as societies become more egalitarian, like Sweden, gender disparity in certain occupations actually increases?

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