Chapter 1, continued

Cross-Cutting Themes

Research-Education Infrastructure


The research-education infrastructure group examined the climate for women in the sciences from the elementary and secondary level, to higher education and the workplace. Its goal was to determine factors in education and workplace environments that affect women's participation in the sciences and engineering.


The research-education environment is often a chilly one for women students and scientists. While blatant forms of sexism are now uncommon, more subtle forms remain, such as not being invited to meetings or not being treated in a collegial fashion. The results of a 1992 survey demonstrate that men and women faculty have differing perceptions about the extent to which women are treated fairly at their institutions. Although most faculty of both sexes felt that women were treated fairly, 37 percent of women, full-time faculty in science and engineering disagreed, while just 15 percent of men disagreed (see figure 14).

Funding is shrinking just as women are entering scientific fields in larger numbers. Nineteen percent of all women faculty surveyed in 1992 were recent hires (hired between 1989 and 1992) compared with 10 percent of men. As universities restructure and downsize, vacant faculty positions are being replaced with nontenure-track instructor positions that pay less and come with little or no job security and benefits. Disproportionately, women fill these positions or serve as part-time and temporary faculty. Almost one-half (48 percent) of all recently hired women were hired in part-time positions compared with 35 percent of men. Nearly two-thirds of these women took these part-time jobs because no full-time positions were available.

As in many professional fields, women in science and engineering experience the barrier of the glass ceiling. Thirty-six percent of women, full-time science and engineering faculty who were surveyed in 1992 were very or somewhat dissatisfied with the opportunity for advancement compared with 26 percent of men. Women advance to a certain level, but as the prestige and importance of the ranks increase, fewer and fewer women can be found. In academia, for example, women are overrepresented as instructors, lecturers, and assistant professors and underrepresented as full professors (See figure 15). Few women are department heads or have executive positions in industry and government.

Related to this glass ceiling is the problem of isolation. In some fields, particularly those that are dominated by men, women often feel isolated, unable to make the informal, casual connections like their male counterparts. Networking is still an "old boys" phenomenon, more exclusive than inclusive.

There are many reasons for the attrition of women from science and engineering fields (Suter, 1996). At the undergraduate level, women point to a lack of self-confidence or a damaged self-esteem, stereotypes of science and engineering as "male" fields, experiences of gender bias, a distaste for the competitive nature of science and engineering education, psychological alienation, a lack of adequate academic guidance or advice, and low faculty expectations.


Many programs have addressed the problems in the research-education infrastructure. However, dissemination of these programs is limited, and evidence of their success is not readily available or accessible.

Graduate schools need to do a better job advising women on alternative career routes. The current perception that nonacademic careers are inferior should change. Resources on these career options need to be made more available. Administrators should not assess Ph.D. programs based solely on the number of graduates in academic careers.

Peer mentoring should also be encouraged. This task involves senior graduate students mentoring new graduate students and graduate students mentoring undergraduates. Publications from groups such as the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) can be used as resources.

Opportunities should also be available to women at the midcareer level. Women need to be trained in leadership skills to prepare for deanships and comparable senior positions outside academe. Similarly, networking opportunities must be made available to promote advancement and reduce isolation. Good networking opportunities should advance the notion that science is a multicareer enterprise. Internships and apprenticeships should be available at various levels--undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral.

Membership on important tenure, promotion, and research funding review panels should be examined, and explicit and implicit criteria should be reviewed to ensure the inclusion of women. This restructuring will effect the executive level, where decisions on hiring and promotion are made. Universities and federal agencies need to reexamine their value systems for promotion and award decisions, too (e.g., value given to service, teaching, and outreach activities relative to research).

Views from the Participants

"We have trained women but have given them few opportunities to excel.

This situation is demoralizing and a social injustice. There is a glass ceiling both in industry and in academia for women scientists and engineers.

NSF could easily implement certain measures to hold institutions accountable if they have not been active and sensitive to recruitment and retention of women.

This could be done quantitatively by comparing statistics on women doctoral students graduated in the last 10 years nationwide in a particular discipline of science and engineering to the number of tenured women faculty members in the same discipline of an institution under scrutiny.

Special attention should be paid to institutions that give tenured titles to women faculty members but do not actually grant them tenure."

"Climate issues for women faculty in these disciplines are the most critical.

Several institutions (perhaps through multiyear postdocs) should become hosts to female-dominant departments in these areas.

Although mentor programs exist all over, few are actually working.

In a female-dominant department, there will be less mystery about the tenure and review process, an openness about expectations, an immediate acceptance of an individual's worth, an understanding of external and familial responsibilities, and an overall attitude of continual growth.

After being in such a department for several years, a woman should have developed enough self-esteem and knowledge of the system to seek and gain a tenure-track position elsewhere.

This suggestion may garner considerable criticism as "women need a helping hand."

I contend that this helping hand, understanding ear, and invisible mentoring is precisely what men have been constantly receiving in their education and careers.

This would not be a "helping hand" situation but a leveling of the playing field."


The Association for Women in Science (AWIS) launched its Mentoring Project in 1990, with a goal of increasing the number of women who become science professionals. The project was designed to inform, promote, and support mentoring at every development stage. AWIS identified many ways and means of mentoring-- going well beyond the traditional model where senior professionals mentor junior professionals. The study also focused on the traditional conflicts between the images society assigns to "women" versus "scientists," experimented with group mentoring methods and network creation, and explored the special concerns of women of color.

The project was co-funded by AWIS and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Two products are available from the project, A Hand Up: Women Mentoring Women in Science, updated in 1995, contains interviews with women in science, common threads regarding challenges, reflections and suggestion from noted scientists, and a resource guide to nearly 100 groups that support women in the sciences. It provides excellent guidance on job searches and letters of recommendation (350 pages).

Mentoring Means Future Scientists: A Guide to Developing Mentoring Programs Based on the AWIS Mentoring Project is the full report on the 3-year project. It includes a discussion of what was effective and what was not in mentoring programs targeted at specific fields and age groups, sample materials, and the survey data that resulted from the study. It also contains an extensive bibliography (160 pages).

For current prices and listings of AWIS publications, write to AWIS, 1201 New York Avenue N.W., Washington, DC 20005, or call (202) 326-8940.

Impact of Technology


The impact of technology group focused on technological literacy issues of girls and women, the participation of women in technology-intensive fields, and the promise and dangers the information revolution holds for education.


In elementary and secondary school, girls and young women do not participate as often as boys and young men in activities designed to promote the use of or the learning about technology and computing. In a 1992 study, Anderson (1993) found that girls in 5th, 8th, and 11th grades were slightly less likely to have taken a computer course and have a computer in the home as boys, but scored as well as boys on a test of computer knowledge and skills. Girls with limited experience about technology, particularly information technologies, are at a disadvantage when they reach the undergraduate level and beyond. In general, it is less likely that those who are socialized to shun technology at the K-12 level will pursue science and engineering--much less the technology-intensive studies within these fields--at the undergraduate level and beyond.

Historically, middle school courses in the study of technology (i.e., the study of the nature of technology and its societal implications) and computer technology, in particular, have had a distinctly masculine tone and have drawn from a primarily male participant pool. From their roots in the 1950s and 1960s, computers have had the image of being "complex, number crunching machines that are staffed by men in white lab coats." Computer jargon such as "computer jock" and "hacker" usually conjures images of (white) young men (Sanders, 1995).

At the same time, women in science and engineering fields are least well represented in technology-intensive fields such as engineering, computer science, and physics. Even within the biological sciences (where women are comparatively well represented), women congregate in subfields that are relatively instrumentation free. However, the use of educational technology in teaching does not vary by sex. A 1992 NSF study (1992) revealed that the frequency of use of computational tools and software and computer-aided instruction in postsecondary teaching was much more clearly associated with the particular science or engineering field than with the instructor's sex. That is, women and men were about equally likely to make use of these educational technologies in instruction.

Furthermore, the input of women into the creation of technology is something that has always been perceived to be minimal. Whether or not this is true (and in many cases it is certainly not), there is a common perception that many technologies used in science and engineering were developed by and for men.


The crisis in computer science (see the summary on the computer and information sciences and engineering breakout session) must be stemmed. Recent declines in the proportion of computer science degrees awarded to women must be reversed, and the public perception of computers as a male-dominated endeavor corrected. This affects not only computer science but also all other sciences that are relying more often on people who have high levels of expertise in their own fields as well as computing.

There are a number of well-conceived activities taking place across the country that focus on girls and technology. However, to focus on any one age group or educational level would be a mistake. Any policy that aims to increase the technological literacy of girls and women must be inclusive and encourage well-measured programs so that we can understand what works and use those results to create still better programs.

Much of the literature confirms that technology-intensive projects that bridge all boundaries may be particularly important in promoting the involvement of girls and women. Bridges between computing technology and fields that are historically women dominated have the possibility of bringing more women into technology and should be aggressively pursued.

In addition to making bridges to nonscience and engineering fields, girls and women seem to be drawn to programs that are factually grounded. In the educational realm, this means communicating that technology is a means or foundation for something that has societal impact, not just a foundation in the abstract.

Finally, the information revolution, of unforeseeable scope and magnitude, holds danger as well as promise. The danger is that it can cause disenfranchisement; it can separate men from women, black from white, rich from poor. On the other hand, it holds tremendous promise for doing exactly the opposite -- more can be done with less money and isolation can be reduced. Support networks for women such as Systers embody this promise. This issue deserves more deliberate and systematic examination in order to avoid the dangers and identify the promises.

Views from the Participants

"One of the best ways NSF might enhance the participation of women in science-based careers is to avail itself of current technology to the fullest extent possible.

NSF should exploit the Internet in order to publicize the programs that are effective in recruiting and retaining women in science and engineering education and employment.

NSF should provide the funding to put on the Internet information about effective interventions and model projects, scholarships and fellowships, data about the status of women in science and engineering education, and research about women in science-based careers, particularly those financial aid programs, interventions, and research projects funded by the Foundation."

"On our campus we have developed a valuable model that could be used by NSF to support and increase the involvement of women in technology.

Women, Information Technology, and Scholarships (WITS) colloquium, an interdisciplinary group of faculty and academic professionals at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign campus, is working to help ensure that new communications technologies will be structured and used in ways that are beneficial and equitable to all.

While initially we planned for one year of programs, the participants from disciplines across campus requested that WITS continue.

We have published a WITS book, sponsored dozens of workshops, hosted many speakers, and have become an organization well known to many administrators.

The interdisciplinary nature of the WITS has provided a depth to our organization that has provided women graduate students and faculty support unequaled anywhere else on campus.

We have recently published Global Alert for potential strategic partners concerned about gender equity in global communication networks.

We are preparing a handbook so that groups elsewhere can use some of the materials and perspectives from our first 4 years."

Family Issues


The family issues group focused on changing workplace policies so that women (and men) scientists and engineers will be better able to balance career and family responsibilities. The group considered incentives and disincentives that could be put in place at the institutional level that would lead to more productive scientists and engineers. This would benefit women as well as men, the institution, and the enterprise of science and engineering in general.


Women scientists and engineers face a host of challenges to their careers that result from family responsibilities. Family issues are those responsibilities in one's personal life that conflict with or pose challenges to the rhythms of academia and science or vice versa. These challenges are often disproportionately shouldered by women. The way that employers respond to these issues can either lessen or intensify their effects and lead to greater or less productivity and career satisfaction. Frequently cited family issues include child rearing and child care, the care of elderly parents, family leave policies, dual-career families, commuter marriages, trailing spouses, the double-body problem (the problem when only one spouse receives tenure) and career retention and reentry issues. All of these issues affect women as well as men. However, historically women have taken a greater role in managing family and household.

In their study of the career paths of men and women in science, Sonnert and Holton (1995) found that women (21 percent) more often pointed to family demands as a career obstacle than men (3 percent). Women and men placed equally high importance on their careers as compared with family, but women more often reported some tension between their various roles.

Women scientists are more often married to scientists than are men. Sonnert and Holton (1995) found that about 62 percent of the married women in their sample had a spouse who held a doctorate compared with 19 percent of married men in the sample. On the positive side, women scientists who marry male scientists share similar lifestyles with their spouse. However, because women are more often married to doctorate holders than men are, women more often face the career problems of this phenomena. It is often difficult for both members of a dual-career couple to find satisfactory jobs in the same geographic area, particularly when they are both college faculty. It also difficult when one spouse is offered a job in a distant geographical location or when only one spouse receives tenure.

In addition, studies of undergraduate women who switched out of science and engineering majors have revealed that these decisions are often made because of the perception that the lifestyle commonly associated with science is not one that many women believe is compatible with their plans for marriage and family (Rosser, 1995).

Almost all of the women with children in the Sonnert and Holton study felt that child rearing had somehow affected their career compared with only two-thirds of men with children. The period of life most often associated with child rearing also happens to be associated with periods of career-building and, for academic professionals, seeking tenure status in particular. However, both men and women also cited advantages of marriage and child rearing, including the emotional satisfaction they provided.


For many of the challenges posed by issues of the family, institutions that employ scientists and engineers need to examine how they can transform the climate, policies, and practices of their institutions as a whole in order to provide a more balanced, family-friendly atmosphere for women and men. The onus for change must remain on employing organizations (e.g., colleges, universities, and corporations) rather than on employees or outside organizations.

Two studies were recommended on family-issues policies of institutions. First, institutions that are examining their family policies could be studied to inventory what works and what does not. A second study could examine best practices in family policies. These two studies would provide more information and serve as a baseline for other institutions.

A synthesis of the current authoritative research on family issues could be completed and made available to institutions and individual scientists. Some female university professors are finding a more supportive environment because of the growth in women faculty, women's courses, support groups, and funding for gender/women's studies. As more and more women enter the sciences, the sheer number may provide greater support for changing institutional policies on family issues.

Lessons can be learned from other sectors such as industry. Large corporations more often offer family-friendly benefits and policies, such as child care services, sensitivity training, and family leave, than many universities.

Finally, the availability of professional development programs, such as career advancement awards, visiting professorships, and other programs, offers greater professional flexibility to women's careers in ways that result in greater flexibility in women's personal lives.

Views from the Participants

"I envision a society where productive years for women (scientifically and physiologically speaking) are not mutually exclusive, where raising children is a continuation, not an interruption of life.

This would be a society where young women who are serious in their studies are not constantly asked if they would ever get married, where a woman's dedication to science is not questioned if she chooses to have children (as it is not for men)."

"While I am not offering solutions and I also acknowledge other factors, I see this issue as a major factor in the participation of women in science.

I see self-imposed selection not as the survival of the fittest but as an unwritten rule of society that deprives many fields of science in academia of a considerable pool of talent and young science-oriented women of role models.

It also depletes high-ranking positions in industry and national labs of highly qualified women.

While having a family and pursuing a career is a personal choice, too much of the burden is placed on the individuals for creating a situation by which they can do both.

I believe that women quietly and sometimes desperately try to hold on to both worlds of science and family.

A huge leap has been made by sensitizing men as life partners; however society as a whole, and employers specifically, have yet to pick up their share of the responsibility."

"Women must become convinced that good child care outside the home is a positive experience for their children, and somehow women must shed the load of guilt that often accompanies having a career.

Perhaps the most positive contribution to be made at conferences such as this one is to begin to help women come to grips with this

Let's develop support groups for women in science and make them aware of the data indicating the positive aspects of learning experiences for children in good child care programs; let's establish a national dialog about the necessity of providing such programs; let's publicize the stories of successful women scientists who've chosen not to choose between family and career but are satisfied that they've excelled in both.

Let our goal for the twenty-first century be to create a society in which our daughters and granddaughters will not have to choose between science and family! "

Shattering Preconceptions


The shattering preconceptions group focused on myths and stereotypes of women and science as portrayed in the popular media and as commonly accepted by the public in a variety of social settings (family, schools, peer groups, the workplace, etc.). These myths and stereotypes have a tremendous impact particularly on young women. Of special concern to the group was the issue of the so-called "double bind," that is, the effect of being both a woman and a member of a racial or ethnic minority group. Preconceptions lead to barriers that are deeply embedded in society and require widespread, grassroots solutions.


There are many negative stereotypes about women in science. They include the perceptions that women should not be scientists, that women lack certain analytic and cognitive abilities that are essential to working in the sciences, that girls need not learn as much higher level mathematics as boys; and that girls are innately more interested in the arts and humanities, whereas boys' interests take them to more technical pursuits. There is also a belief that science and mathematics are rare, innate abilities. Simply put, some people believe that only some can do science and others cannot.

While many of these stereotypes were more widely accepted by the public in prior years, they are still present in many aspects of life. They have detrimental effects on young women's perceptions of their own technical abilities and their interests in education and career.

These stereotypes often start in the home when children are very young and are carried through early schooling, high school, college, and into career, constantly reinforced by cues from society. Girls often receive subtle feedback from parents, teachers, friends, and the community that steers them away from the sciences and, especially, engineering. Some young women receive the message that there is a mismatch between being feminine and pursuing interests in technical areas. In reality, a larger proportion of high school girls take challenging science and mathematics courses than boys. The exceptions are physics and calculus. About 32 percent of male high school graduates in 1993 had earned credits in physics compared with about 27 percent of females. (Suter, 1996) These numbers may suggest why women are so underrepresented in engineering, which relies heavily on an understanding of physics and its principles.

Several studies have demonstrated that young women receive higher grades than men in high school and college science and mathematics courses. Despite this, women tend to think that they are not performing well; the opposite is true with men. This lack of self-confidence (or overconfidence in the case of men) is carried throughout life. In a sample of academic scientists and engineers surveyed by Sonnert and Holton (1995), 70 percent of male scientists reported that they had above-average scientific abilities, whereas only 52 percent of female scientists reported such an attitude.

Women of color who pursue science and engineering studies and career face an even more formidable array of barriers. They are affected by gender as well as racial bias -- thus, the double bind. To exacerbate the situation, many of the remedies to the underrepresentation of minorities in science and engineering are kept intellectually and programmatically distinct from the remedies for the underrepresentation of women.

At the career level in science and engineering, it is common for women to feel they are assumed to be professionally incompetent until they prove otherwise. Women of color face this barrier more frequently. The opposite is true for men, whose competency is assumed until demonstrated otherwise.

Figure 16


Methods to overcome the underrepresentation of women in the sciences and engineering must attend to the social factors, such as stereotypes and preconceptions, that contributed to lopsided participation rates. In addition to promoting public understanding of scientific concepts, public understanding of science as an enterprise and the of role of science and scientists should be promoted. Parents, school teachers, and faculty need to be reminded to set their expectations very high for all children, not just those who are stereotypically ordained to succeed.

Changing public attitudes toward women requires working at the grassroots level. Changing attitudes is the responsibility of scientists and many scientific and women's organizations. NSF has a history of using its resources to galvanize action. NSF could fund public awareness supplements or extensions to standard NSF grants.

Mentoring and outreach are essential to overcoming the damage inflicted by negative images, preconceptions, and stereotypes. Mentoring and outreach are by nature confidence-boosting activities. Without such nurturing, students may fall victim to society's stereotypes. Most scientists, particularly women, should be encouraged to visit elementary and junior high schools to explain their professions and interests. Good models for mentoring and outreach programs should be shared among industry, academia, and federal agencies. Organizations that employ scientists and engineers should offer incentives for volunteering in mentoring, outreach, and other capacities that encourage persistence and participation. Scientific professional societies should take the lead in organizing community outreach opportunities for scientists from various workplaces.

To deal with the issue of the double bind, federal science funding agencies should give priority to grants that demonstrate diversity as a goal. They can hold grantees accountable for showing that they are achieving results. Of particular concern to NSF, the makeup of grant proposal review panels needs to be examined to ensure that diverse backgrounds and perspectives are represented.

Views from the Participants

"Girls and boys have very firm ideas about what roles they should take in the sciences.

Girls who are "A" students often view themselves as poor science students.

We have found that all-girl clubs allow girls to try new, unfamiliar activities without fear of failure.

The success of these experiences carries over into their classes. The middle school years are a crucial time for girls.

This is the age when girls start falling behind boys in academic areas (especially math and science) and begin losing self-esteem.

Projects that expose girls to positive role models make them aware of their opportunities and options for the future and give them new experiences that have a tremendous impact on their decisions and self-perception."

"The negative image of scientists presented in the media is a major obstacle to exciting young people about science.

Scientists are presented as bumbling, absent-minded, out of touch, and, often, dangerous.

Even when presented in less negative ways, the image is almost exclusively male and "hard," divorced from human concerns, and devoid of social skills and interests.

Further, media coverage of science itself often has a negative twist.

NSF, possibly in collaboration with AAAS, could undertake several initiatives to counter these problems."

"It has been my experience as my children have gone through grade school that teachers' attitudes can have an influence on the participation of women in science.

One second grade teacher remarked to me, "boys always have more fun with science fairs than girls."

Children pick up this kind of attitude and can develop preconceptions without ever experiencing failure in these areas.

They are discouraged before they begin by preconceptions that it will be hard or not fun because they are girls.

The attitudes of male peers can also discourage females from wanting to participate in science and technology fields."

"The single greatest impediment to attracting members of underrepresented groups is the perception of science as a white, masculine enterprise.

The history of science is replete with Caucasian male success stories.

The collection of these individual portraits serves as the photo album of the profession.

There have not been enough men of color and women valorized to create an impression of a diverse community.

We look around and see more women colleagues and there seem to be more people of color gaining recognition for their accomplishments.

Is enough being done to promote the idea of a difference in the composition of the scientific workforce? "

Bridging Education and Workforce Transitions


The bridging transitions group emphasized a new way of looking at education and workforce transitions. Traditionally, "bridging transitions" means transitions between various education levels and career, such as high school to college, college to graduate school, education to the workplace, etc. The group felt that focusing only on these transitions limits creative thinking (and therefore policy choices) of the real transitions women must make to move from the role of student to the role of science and engineering knowledge worker.

The group offered three basic transitions beyond the traditional hierarchical conception: educational, structural, and relationship. These transitions often serve as barriers to women entering and progressing through the stages of study and career in science and engineering.


The major challenge for understanding how to bridge transitions is to recognize that research, policy, and practice must address more than the linear transitions between educational levels. It must address interconnections between women and science that portend their success or failure. Each of these three transition areas requires a new way of thinking about both achievements and challenges. Each must be addressed at a variety of organizational levels: local institutions, public and private foundations, and state and federal government.

Educational Transitions. The proportion of women in science and engineering diminishes at each successive stage in the science and engineering education and research enterprise. For example, all elementary school girls receive at least some science education. As young women receive more and more options in science and engineering studies, fewer and fewer women are found pursuing those studies. Because women are underrepresented in many fields of science and engineering, and particularly at higher status levels (full professors, department chairs, deans, etc.), interventions must be tried that will help to smooth the transition from one level to the next.

The High School and Beyond Study (discussed in Suter, 1996) traced the intended or actual major of students who were high school sophomores in 1980 through 1986 (a time when those pursuing college had reached their senior year). The now somewhat dated study found that men and women leave natural science and engineering majors in about the same overall proportion. After 6 years, just 40 percent of the male and female high school sophomores who had originally intended to major in natural science and engineering, had done so. However, at each transition point (high school sophomore to senior, high school senior to college sophomore, college sophomore to college senior) proportionally more women entered the science and engineering pipeline than men, but proportionally more were lost. In effect, a greater supply of women made up for the greater rate of female attrition (see figure 17).

Structural Transitions. These are transitions that women must make in acclimating themselves to new science and engineering environments. As women move from the undergraduate to the graduate level, their role changes (e.g., from generalist to specialist) along with the demands and expectations placed on them by the academic environment. The same kind of structural change between role and environment must take place in making graduate student and workplace transitions (i.e., learner to doer). In many instances, these environments are "chilly" ones (see section on Research-Education Infrastructure) that require a more systematic and concerted change effort on the part of the individual than one might expect.

Relationship Transitions. When girls (like boys) are young, their primary mentoring relationship is child to parent or caregiver. As girls enter school, a relationship transition takes place: student to teacher is added. In high school, peer relations play a large role in young women's academic decisions. Finally, as women enter college, graduate school, and beyond, two new relationships develop: mentee to mentor and colleague to colleague. These transitions offer peril and potential for growth.


Educational Transitions. There needs to be a change in the way that science and mathematics is taught and learned--kindergarten through undergraduate. The middle and high school curriculum is fragmented, making transitions from one level of education to the next intellectually difficult. Subject-matter content must be articulated across the grades K-16 in order to take a system-wide approach to educating students in science and mathematics.

Using real-world problems, examples, and projects help smooth transitions to the workplace. Although beneficial to all learners, current emphasis on authentic projects and assessments in secondary schools is particularly valuable for those women who do not go on to college or pursue technical training. Many believe that women are particularly comfortable in learning science and mathematics when connections are made between subject areas and the real world.

Structural Transitions. At early educational levels, proper academic and career advisement is important for alerting women students to the structural transitions that they will have to make in their educational and career experiences. For example, young women need to be informed in high school that they will need to take precalculus, calculus, and physics before they can major in engineering in college. Likewise, women need to be informed of career opportunities and barriers in science and engineering throughout their educational experience.

Research experience during the first 2 years of college is a valuable bridge between the roles of learner and doer (a role that becomes increasingly important at higher levels of learning), helping to smooth this critical role transition. In a similar way, academic and industry collaboration in shaping education and training can help smooth transitions from college to the workplace.

Relationship Transitions. To strengthen relationship transitions, the role and place of mentoring must be emphasized. Research findings must be disseminated to parents, teachers, and faculty on the potentially important effects that role models and mentors have on young women. For example, first- and second-year high school teachers are critically important to young women staying in science and mathematics. The effect of gender socialization on preservice teachers (undergraduate and graduate education majors) and the effects that student teaching has on their eventual teaching beliefs and behaviors should be examined.

Views from the Participants

"Support aimed at the critical junctions in a faculty member's career can help her cross the junctions without casualty.

These junctions are getting her first academic job, publishing her thesis results, and starting her first major research project.

All faculty need help at these points, but underrepresented minorities need more assistance.

Support can come in a variety of forms -- money as grants is seen as the most prestigious.

A conference for women to network is another strong possibility."

"Once women with scientific training have stepped out of the labor force for a few years to care for young children, it is difficult to move back in, especially with the rate of technology change. In order to return to the workforce in scientific or technical positions and/or to higher education, these women would benefit by the work-study program.

A combination of opportunities for internships or practice with opportunity to complete or update prior study would be an attractive option."

"A recent survey indicated that a least 50 percent of students plan to stop taking math and science as soon as they can, although many express interest in study or careers in areas that require a good deal of mathematics.

In addition to ignorance of the need for math/science in many careers, there is ignorance of what one really does in a given career.

This affects males as well as females but may impact females more.

In addition, women tend to be more concerned about balancing career and family life and also more concerned about working with people."

"I propose the development of a career awareness program involving classroom interaction of students, teachers, counselors, and parents (at all levels, at least through undergraduate work) with people engaged in careers requiring a math/science background.

Women need to know that a math/science background is a critical filter for many careers, that many women are successfully pursuing scientific careers, that there are many math/science careers that involve working with people, and that one can balance career and family life."

The Mills College Conference: Women and Leadership

In 1994, the Mills College Women's Leadership Institute sponsored a national Women in Science Summit, inviting 52 prominent women scientists to create an action plan that would advance women's leadership in science. The participants represented the spectrum of biological, social, and physical sciences as well as college, university, government, and industry perspectives. The participants made the following recommendations:
  • Initiate new recruitment and retention efforts for senior science positions;
  • Ensure comparable salaries;
  • Promote effective mentoring systems;
  • Improve work environments;
  • Support career flexibility;
  • Heighten visibility at top levels;
  • Enhance funding to increase the number of full professorships for women; and
  • Increase accountability at national and institutional levels.

Source: Advancing Women's Leadership in Science: An Action Plan to the Year 2000. Mills College, Women's Leadership Institute, Mills Hall, 500 MacArthur Boulevard, Oakland, CA 94613, (510) 430-2019.

Changing Curriculum and Instruction


The changing curriculum and instruction group addressed issues of how curricula and instructional techniques affect women's participation in science and engineering studies from kindergarten through the undergraduate level. The group examined the issue of why women find curriculum or coursework content and instruction less attractive in some fields than in others. Curricula and instruction are and will likely continue to change in ways that are more inclusive of women. Specifically, the group addressed four main areas of this change: change within institutions, changing curricular content, changing the culture, and changing curricular and instructional policies.


Historically, curricular content and teaching techniques in the sciences and engineering not only have done little to encourage girls and women to pursue their interests in these fields but also have done damage, affecting girls and women negatively.

Attitudes are influenced early--in elementary and middle school for example. Textbooks and curricula materials have historically transmitted masculine stereotypes of science. Sometimes these cues were overt, often they were subtle and unintentional. For example, the field of engineering (and other physical sciences to a lesser extent) has developmental roots in military projects. As a result, many of the examples in earlier engineering textbooks were taken from military applications. These types of examples often had less connection and familiarity to the lives of women.

Researchers have often pointed to unintentional favoritism toward boys and men in classroom instruction. Examples often cited include teachers calling on male students more often, making more frequent eye contact with male students, asking male students more higher order questions, and assigning higher value to responses from male students (Rosser, 1995). Moreover, often due to lower enrollments of women in some courses, women often do not get adequate opportunity to interact with other women on group projects involving substantive course-related projects.

Finally, many scholars feel that current reforms in curriculum and teaching map particularly well with the learning styles of girls and women. Connections between coursework and real-world issues, hands-on activities, cooperative learning, and group projects are believed to benefit all learners, regardless of sex. Some research concludes that old instructional styles were detrimental to efforts to attract and retain women in science and engineering fields. The function of introductory courses in particular was meant to "weed out" those who were not "capable" of scientific study -- often resulting in the exodus of women and people of color.


The overall recommendation of the group is that vestiges of bias in curriculum materials and instructional techniques should be actively eradicated while developing and implementing curricula and instructional techniques that are relevant to all students, reflect their needs, and acknowledge a diversity of learning styles.

Making changes in how teachers teach will require making changes in how teachers are prepared for the classroom and ongoing professional development. Such changes often run counter to established and more familiar instructional practices and require time to implement. Special emphasis should be placed on professional development in diversity issues and equitable instructional practices for all prospective and current teachers at the elementary, secondary, and undergraduate levels.

Classrooms need to provide ample opportunity for both male and female students to participate fully in the learning activities available. The content of curricula must be connected with process skills--teaching, pedagogy, and assessment -- in order to spur the complementary changes in practice that are necessary for sustaining reform. However, these curriculum and instructional changes must also show that science and engineering are relevant and interesting to girls and women. For example, women's impact and role in the history of science and engineering should be reflected accurately in instructional materials and practices.

Finally, there is a need for further research and evaluation on issues of gender and curriculum and instruction. Studies that trace the impact of various reforms in teaching and the use of new materials could provide beneficial feedback to teachers, administrators, and policymakers and would expand the knowledge base in these important areas.

Views from the Participants

"Creating interest among women in the sciences is crucial to increasing the number of women educated in the area.

This interest is best created at an early age through successful encounters and physical manipulation of materials.

The interrelationship between the concrete manipulation of objects and the abstract development of quantitative relationships needs to happen early in a child's learning experience, not as seniors in high school in a strictly abstract environment.

The relevance of the activities and connections to objects and experiences in everyday life are other essential components necessary to develop a positive outlook among female students toward the sciences.

The interest has to be sustained over several years and has to be backed up by thoughtful and rigorous learning experiences through the high school and college years."

"Our academic institutions and funding agencies must recognize and reward faculty for the development and use of science curricula and instructional methods based on
cognitive theories, which take into account individual preferences in learning and

Educational research must be supported so that we can learn more about why women abandon science majors and careers, whether specific teaching and learning strategies can increase the academic success of women, and how best to sustain women's interest in science."

"A finding that struck me in my research is that girls (even very young girls) do not see the relevance of science for their future.

They think this way well before they start seeing themselves as not being good in science and before their test scores and course taking start declining.

NSF has been active in promoting images of women in science, but I think much more is needed. Here are a few suggestions:

Dear Dave:

Just a quick note to let you know of the success of a program I put on at Vassar on June 8, 1996, that was inspired by the December 1995 NSF conference on women and science. After visiting numerous posters at the December meeting that describe successful NSF-sponsored projects to encourage girls in science, I decided to put on a program here at Vassar.

Sister/Scientist Day at the Vassar College Farm involved 50 girls (5th-11th grade) and 20 parents from the Poughkeepsie and mid-Hudson region. These participants spent the day at the Collins Field Station on the farm working on hands-on science projects led by female scientists (many of them Vassar College professors). Each girl participated in three different workshops that they chose from a list of 22. Most of the workshops were hands-on workshops but some were career and guidance workshops. The adults attended guidance workshops only.

In addition to the workshops, all participants enjoyed a keynote speech by Peggy Shephard, co-founder and executive director of West Harlem Environmental Action titled, "Science and Social Justice." The participants were welcomed at the opening of the conference by the Vassar College Dean of Faculty and me. There was a high proportion of students of color among the participants since I recruited heavily from Poughkeepsie High School. A lovely article appeared (and was spotlighted) in the Poughkeepsie Journal that discussed the conference and its goal of encouraging girls to engage with science.

Thank you and all of your colleagues at NSF for putting on the December conference on Women & Science. Were it not for that, I might not have had the idea or the energy for Sister/Scientist Day at the Vassar College Farm.

Best Regards,

Jill S. Schneiderman
Associate Professor of Geology
Vassar College

"Our academic institutions and funding agencies must recognize and reward faculty for the development and use of science curricula and instructional methods based on cognitive theories, which take into account individual preferences in learning and teaching.

Educational research must be supported so that we can learn more about why women abandon science majors and careers, whether specific teaching and learning strategies can increase the academic success of women, and how best to sustain women's interest in science."


Anderson, R.E. (Ed.). (1993). Computers in American schools 1992: An overview. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota.

Carnegie Mellon University. (October 14, 1995). Bridging gender in engineering and science: The challenge of institutional transformation. Conference Proceedings. Pittsburgh, PA.

National Science Foundation. (1992). Unpublished tabulations from the National Survey of Postsecondary Faculty.

Rosser, S.V. (Ed.). (1995). Teaching the majority: Breaking the gender barrier in science, mathematics, and engineering. New York: Teachers College Press.

Sanders, J. (1995). Girls and technology: Villain wanted. In Sue V. Rosser (Ed.), Teaching the majority: Breaking the gender barrier in science, mathematics, and engineering. New York: Teachers College Press.

Sonnert, G., and Holton, G. (1995). Who succeeds in science? The gender dimension. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Suter, L.E. (Ed.). (1996). Indicators of science and mathematics in education 1995. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation.


1 A complete listing of individuals involved in organizing the conference and conference program can be found on the World Wide Web as described on p. 64.

2 They were hired between 1989 and 1992. The survey was conducted in 1992.

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