NYSCF Gender Equality Report Card Identifies Widespread Underrepresentation of Women in STEM
Despite a mountain of evidence that a diverse research workforce benefits scientific investigation, achieving gender equality in science, technology, engineering, and medicine (STEM) remains an enormous challenge. Today, we are delighted to publish an analysis in Cell Stem Cell that defines the nature and extent of gender disparity in STEM, providing critical groundwork for future efforts to support women’s careers in these fields. This work, also covered in STAT, is the culmination of four years of data collection from biomedical research institutes worldwide through our Initiative on Women in Science and Engineering (IWISE), which we analyzed in collaboration with Dr. Reshma Jagsi’s team at the University of Michigan.
What prompted this study?
“To reach treatments and cures, we need full participation in science and medicine,” says NYSCF CEO Susan L. Solomon, JD, who co-led the study, in a press release. “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.”
In 2014, with the support of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, we launched IWISE to examine the scope of this problem and to devise actionable strategies to address it. One of IWISE’s first achievements was the implementation of an Institutional Report Card for Gender Equality (Report Card). Over the past four years, we have required every applicant to NYSCF’s extramural grant programs to complete this Report Card, allowing us to evaluate the representation of women in STEM across more than 500 institutions in 38 countries.
What did analysis of Report Card submissions reveal?
The results showed that there is still a lot of work to be done to reach gender equity in STEM, especially in senior roles. The leaky pipeline is real: women constituted just 42% of assistant professors, 34.2% of associate professors, and 23.4% of full professors. In nearly one third of institutions, women made up less than 10% of tenured faculty recruits. This tells us that the issue is not recruitment of women into STEM (undergraduates, graduate, and post-graduate students were all gender-balanced), but rather retention and promotion of women to these leadership roles that are critical for influence and resources to conduct high-impact research. Similarly, women were poorly represented on decision-making committees involved in faculty promotions, institutional strategy, and graduate student appointment and recruitment. Unfortunately, we did not see any significant improvements in gender representation across the 4 years of data collection.
We also examined whether institutions had adopted IWISE’s recommended actionable strategy to introduce institutional policies that support women in STEM. Some did: 38% of institutions offered additional support mechanisms for paid family leave, and some offered additional policies that addressed childcare, flexibility, funding, and career development initiatives. Yet just 8% had minimum requirements for gender representation on decision-making committees, and 16% held general policies to promote diversity.
While many of these results are sobering, we remain optimistic. These emerging policies are addressing important issues, and we have found that the process of collecting data is prompting institutions to think more about how they address gender inequality.
“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,” notes NYSCF’s Kristin Smith-Doody, co-author of the study. “It is encouraging to see some organizations implement these recommendations and we hope to see widespread adoption in the future.”
“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,” adds NYSCF’s Richard Ha, who co-authored the study. “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.”
Collecting this data was a critical baseline against which future interventions or progress can be assessed. We will continue to improve the Report Card and use it to identify best practices and collect additional data. This work also prepares us to move into the next phase of the Initiative: the “recognition phase.” Modeled in part after the UK’s Athena Swan charter, which has shown positive results in promoting women’s career progression in STEM, this phase will confer awards to institutions who prioritize gender balance.
Most importantly, changing this reality will take dedicated teamwork.
“We remain committed to reaching gender 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.”
Institutional Report Cards for Gender Equality: Lessons Learned from Benchmarking Efforts for Women in STEM
Whitney H. Beeler, Kristin A. Smith-Doody, Richard Ha, Raeka S. Aiyar, Elizabeth Schwarzbach, Susan L. Solomon, Reshma Jagsi. Cell Stem Cell, Vol. 25, Issue 3, p306–310. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.stem.2019.08.010
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