June 2011

A major step forward, with many more ahead

The Athena Project afforded a glimpse into the world of STEM industries, and additional research in these sectors is urgently needed. Data collection and reporting by industry tends to pool technical with clerical and management employees, although their responsibilities and working environments clearly are different. Similarly, government agencies that work in STEM areas (e.g., the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Energy, state wildlife agencies) do not routinely report data on their employees by gender and job classification. AWIS has found that women STEM professionals in these work sectors are highly active and vocal about their needs, yet the institutions that employ them are just beginning to collect data to assess their own cultures. 

Similarly, important organizations such as scientific societies have not necessarily absorbed lessons learned from decades of research on gender in science. AWIS currently is working with a number of such societies to help them examine their procedures for identifying recipients of awards so that women are given the recognition they deserve.  

Finally, women STEM entrepreneurs who enter into the world of business find many doors closed to them. Not surprisingly, women are noticeably underrepresented among holders of patents and as founders of technical startup companies. The uneven playing field in this arena is documented dramatically by recent studies of venture capitalists, who fund very few women-owned businesses in science and technology. 

No, our work is not done! While AWIS is heartened by the tremendous progress reported by MIT and other academic institutions (e.g., those funded by the NSF ADVANCE program), we remain committed to the ongoing tasks needed to ensure full participation by women in the STEM disciplines.

Joan M. Herbers (Herbers.4@osu.edu) is a professor at The Ohio State University and president of the Association for Women in Science.

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