Chapter 1

The Conference

About the Conference and This Report

The purpose of the Women & Science: Celebrating Achievements, Charting Challenges conference was to take stock of the achievements that women have made, assess what works best in the classroom and workplace, and chart a new course to address the challenges that remain.

The conference was a joint effort of the seven directorates of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Seven hundred women and men from colleges and universities, industry, nonprofit groups, schools, and community groups assembled in Washington, DC, on December 13-15, 1995, to take part in plenary sessions, breakout sessions, and a special showcase of posters and demonstrations. Breakout sessions were organized by scientific and engineering disciplines and by cross-cutting themes:

Disciplinary Breakouts Cross-cutting Theme Breakouts
Biological SciencesResearch-Education Infrastructure
Computer and Information Science and EngineeringThe Impact of Technology
EngineeringFamily Issues
Geosciences and Polar ProgramsShattering Preconceptions
Mathematical and Physical SciencesBridging Education and Workforce Transitions
Social and Behavioral SciencesChanging Curriculum and Instruction

The conference was hosted by Anne C. Petersen, then Deputy Director of NSF. It was co-chaired by Daryl E. Chubin, Division Director for Research, Evaluation and Communication, and Sue V. Rosser, Senior Program Director for Programs for Women and Girls, both of the Directorate for Education and Human Resources. A Planning Committee was established to provide general guidance, and a Program Steering Committee was formed to construct the conference program. NSF sought and incorporated the advice from a multitude of organizations concerned with women and science.1

The conference breakout sessions examined the challenges and reflected on possible solutions; some tried and some new. Strategies for increasing participation and opportunities for women at all educational levels and throughout the workforce were recommended. However, due to the backgrounds of conference participants, much of the focus was on women in academia. Prior to the conference, participants were invited to respond to one of three open-ended questions about issues central to the conference. The responses were distributed at the conference and are excerpted in this report. The questions were:

Summary of Breakout Sessions

Each of the 12 breakout sessions is summarized based on notes recorded at the session. The summaries contain the following information:

Status Report: A brief statistical summary of the status of women in each field. These are found in the disciplinary breakout summaries only.

Overview: A summary of the mission and topics covered by the breakout session.

Topical Summaries: A brief summary of what transpired at the breakout session organized by the major challenges and possible solutions suggested by the participants.

Views of the Participants: One or more excerpts from the actual words of the conference participants on a particular discipline or issue. These statements are taken from responses to the conference questions that participants were invited to answer before arriving at the conference.

Views of the Assistant Directors and Post-Conference Reflections: Each Assistant Director was asked to participate in a conference session devoted to what NSF directorates were doing to promote opportunities for women. These statements are reproduced. In addition, each Assistant Director was asked to write a statement 6 months after the conference that reflects on the conference and progress made since.

Other Conferences: Some summaries include a box describing findings from a relevant conference on women in science. These conferences were sponsored by organizations other than NSF.

Disciplinary Breakout Sessions

Biological Sciences

Status Report

In the biological sciences, women are no longer underrepresented at the bachelor's and master's degree levels. They earned slightly more than one-half of all bachelor's and master's degrees that were awarded in 1994. However, women remain underrepresented at the doctoral level where they earned two of every five doctorates awarded. In 1973, women earned about 30 percent of bachelor's and master's degrees and only one in five doctorates.

Of female biology faculty who were newly hired2 when surveyed in 1992, 60 percent were hired as part-time employees and more than three-fourths were not on a tenure track or there was no tenure system for their faculty status. In both cases, this was close to or double the proportion of men in these employment situations. At the senior academic ranks, women are still not well represented. Sixteen percent of all female biology faculty were full professors in 1992 compared with 39 percent of male faculty.

Figure 1  |  Figure 2


The biological sciences group discussed education from kindergarten through graduate school, transitions of women in biological sciences between education and the workplace and into senior positions, and issues of the family. Because women have reached parity with men in earning bachelor's and master's degrees in the biological sciences, the group chose to focus on problems at the professional level -- both in academia and in industry.

Education and the Curriculum

To better prepare the next generation of women biologists, biology curricula at the elementary, secondary, and undergraduate levels should be reexamined to reflect needs of society and the students entering those fields. Learning should emphasize group projects, experiential projects, mentoring, and building self-confidence.

Workshops should be created where teachers and researchers could learn from each other about their respective needs and problems. This would give researchers a greater understanding of the issues facing learners and teachers and would bring understanding of cutting-edge content to teachers of biology.


Although women are relatively well represented in the biological sciences, women have not reached important leadership positions in adequate numbers. Based on a national survey of faculty in 1992, women are not confident about opportunities for advancement in their field. Sixty-one percent of women in the biological sciences were very or somewhat dissatisfied with opportunities for advancement compared with 33 percent of men. As a result, particular attention needs to be paid to boosting women into senior ranks. Unfortunately, current pressures in academia (downsizing, scarcity of research funds) make this difficult. To remedy this, leadership workshops and high visibility awards for senior women faculty could be created. In addition, better communication about the status of opportunities in the biological sciences could provide a more accurate picture to women when deciding on career options.

Views of the Assistant Director Mary E. Clutter

Conference Statement

I am sure that many of you are aware and have heard during this conference that there are many women in the biological sciences. In some institutions, more than 50 percent of undergraduate biology majors are now women! When one thinks about this in the context of the past, even in the context of other disciplines, this is an amazing development. It is even more amazing when one considers that approximately 40 percent of Ph.D.s in the biological sciences are being earned by women! So one might think that there is no real problem with parity, which I understand is a goal discussed at this conference.

Parity, as such, would require equal participation of women in all of NSF's programs. In fact, all of NSF's programs are open to women now. For example, the success rates in the biological sciences for women grant applicants are the same as or better than for male grant applicants. Thus, we might ask, is there, in fact, a real problem for women in the biological sciences? The answer is both no and yes.

The problem is not about numbers of women entering the field. It is about the numbers of women in leadership positions. Despite the increasing numbers of women with appropriate academic and research qualifications, there are too few women in leadership positions. This means that there are too few women sitting at the tables where decisions are being made. To make a difference, women have to be at the table when decisions are being made, when policy is being set. We at NSF have witnessed over and over a strange phenomenon. When more women participate in the review process, more women get grants. This might seem strange to some, but when we regularly see at least 50 percent of proposals as fundable, it surely makes a difference who is sitting at the table and who is directing our programs. Interestingly, our experience is that once women begin to participate, their careers take quantum leaps forward.

Thus, I find it disturbing that we have difficulty in recruiting women for program officer positions and even to sit on review panels. Women will often say no because they have other commitments, they do not think it is a worthwhile use of their time, or their universities do not recognize or reward them for this service. But women must recognize that only if they participate will the system change. Every woman who has ever been a program officer in the biological sciences has advanced in her own career as a direct outcome of her experience in making decisions and developing policy at a national level. Panel service is also a significant step in gaining visibility, gaining experience that will pay off in career development.

Therefore, I extend a personal invitation to women who are interested in working with us to advance science and education in an important and significant way, either as panel members or as program directors, to contact me or anyone in the biological sciences directorate. You will not be sorry.

Finally, I have heard at this conference and at others that the year 2010 is the projected goal for reaching real parity in the sciences. We have made strong progress in the biological sciences, but we are a long way from that 2010 goal. We are even further from the goal of having parity in leadership in the biological sciences throughout our research and education enterprise. Until we have women leaders in significant numbers, the parity goal is unlikely to be reached.

Post-Conference Reflections

The Directorate for Biological Sciences is committed to increasing not only the representation of women but also their status. It is, of course, important for there to be equity in the numbers of women biologists, but it is also important for women to be successful in winning grants and obtaining senior-level positions. There are a number of options for facilitating these necessary changes.

The Directorate for Biological Sciences will perform the following tasks:

Views from the Participants

"With the large number of women now getting their first degree in biology, the chances of more women going on to advanced degrees in biology increase.

As the number of women professors increases, so does the presence of women role models and mentors, which should in turn encourage more women.

I remember only one woman faculty member in the biology department when I was an undergraduate in the early 1960s.

In graduate school, the women faculty were all research faculty and were not in tenure-track positions.

On the other hand, while an undergraduate, my daughter performed independent research with two women faculty members in the biology department
and could have chosen from no less than seven women to serve on her Ph.D. committee."

"One of the major problems that has become clear to me through my observations of the job searches conducted by my department is that it is harder to recruit women than men.

Our top group of candidates usually includes as many women as men, if not more, and we have offered jobs to more women than men.

But, we end up hiring many more men than women because women are more apt to turn us down.

Their reasons are diverse, but a common theme is the lack of jobs in our area for their professional spouses.

Male candidates have this constraint less often than women candidates (and are probably less often willing to turn down a good job even if their spouse's professional opportunities are likely to be limited).

We have been unsuccessful, despite good intentions and serious efforts, to increase the number of women on our faculty."

Computer and Information Science and Engineering

Status Report

In contrast to the biological sciences and social and behavioral sciences, women remain underrepresented at all degree levels in the computer sciences, and in recent years, the proportion of degrees awarded to women in this field has dropped. In 1994, women earned about 29 percent of all bachelor's degrees awarded in the computer sciences and 15 percent of doctorates. This is a substantial increase from 1973 when women earned less than 15 percent of computer science degrees at all levels. However, the current proportion represents a decrease from 1986 when women accounted for 36 percent of all bachelor's and 30 percent of master's degrees. The proportion of computer science faculty who are women has also declined in recent years.

Figure 3  |  Figure 4


The computer and information science and engineering group focused on past, present, and future challenges. The group emphasized the importance of addressing reasons for and solutions to the decline in the number of women earning bachelor's degrees in computer science.

Galvanizing Support

Because of the decline in the number of undergraduate women studying the computer sciences and the proportion of computer science faculty who are women, solutions must galvanize widespread and coordinated support from the array of organizations, professional societies (such as the Association for Computer Machinery, the Computer Research Association Committee on the Status of Women), and agencies that address computer science. These institutions must work together at the high school and undergraduate levels to attract more women to study in the computer sciences and engineering. As major employers of graduates in computer science, industry leaders could be brought together to form a consortium of corporations to help achieve the goal of equal representation.

Making Connections Through Information Technology

The Internet has vast potential to influence our society, and computer scientists have the capacity to create and use that influence. The Internet and groups such as Systers (which is a widely used computer network for women in the computer sciences) are valuable resources for women in the computer sciences. Networks develop a dialogue and raise awareness about the issues and problems of women in computer science. Information on programs that achieve success in encouraging women to enter and remain in the computer sciences could be collected and disseminated via such networks. Support through the Internet could achieve a variety of ends for women from high school through career. Women students could be paired with more senior mentors who would help them to better understand career options and problems for women in computer science fields.

Integrating Cultures

There is currently a mismatch between the cultures of computer science and related disciplines. In computer science and engineering, the majority of professionals are men. In library science (which is increasingly becoming digitized), the majority are women. It is necessary to create better interaction between women and men in computer science, engineering, library science, and related disciplines.

Grace Hopper Celebration

The first Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, held in June 1994, featured speeches about computing by prominent women in industry, academia, and government. The conference focused on technical excellence, collaboration and information exchange, celebrating women's achievements in computing, and the importance of role models, mentors, and professional networking. The 450 participants felt that the conference afforded them an opportunity to make connections with other women in computing fields and to discuss their interests and appreciation for computer science. The second conference will be held in 1997.

Views of Assistant Director Paul Young

Conference Statement

We are particularly concerned with the drop-off of interest in computing and information sciences among women at the undergraduate and K - 12 levels. We are looking for creative ideas for increasing awareness at those levels. Let me mention what we are doing nationally to increase participation of women.

In the late 1980s, Anita Borg, consultant engineer at Digital Equipment Corporation, developed a group of academic and professional women in computer science and engineering called Systers. This electronic association has encouraged a particularly active mentor program at several conferences. Computer Research Association has developed an active, on-line database of women speakers and leaders in computer science, useful for academic departments looking for distinguished speakers as well as new faculty members.

At national conferences, the CRA Women's Committee runs career management workshops for women graduate students and faculty each year and provides information on grants, the tenure process, and professional networking. We think this committee is very effective. It also matches female faculty with undergraduate women for summer research work. Because the students are from different institutions than the faculty members, we view this as a model of how information technology is being used and can be used for mentoring undergraduate students across the nation.

In the long run, information technology will transform education. It will have a major impact at the undergraduate level. By transforming education at the undergraduate level, K-12 education will also be positively affected. But beware, there are positive and negative consequences of information technology. On the negative side, this transformation has the potential for depersonalizing communication and human interaction. On the other hand, the positive effects are boundless. Technology has the potential for developing much more personalized, tailored education and can bring people together from all points in the world. The ability to tailor individual experiences can have a beneficial effect for women in computing and will encourage new forms of direct interaction over large geographical distances.

Post-Conference Reflections

For several years, the Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) has been concerned about the low representation of women in computer science and computer engineering fields. In 1991, NSF provided support for the Computer Research Association's Committee on the Status of Women in Computer Science and Engineering (CRA-W) with the goal of increasing the number of women participating in fields supported by the Directorate at all levels, as well as providing a forum for addressing problems that fall disproportionately within women's domains. CRA-W provides assistance for travel to meetings and funds for Committee projects such as Career Management Workshops, Distributed Mentor Project, Expanding the Pipeline, and development and maintenance of a database of women in CISE.

The Distributed Mentor Project matches female undergraduates with female professors on summer research projects, thus providing role models for successful research and academic careers. To prepare for graduate school, a Graduate Information Booklet, available on the World Wide Web, has been developed describing advantages of pursuing an advanced degree in computer science or computer engineering. Also, a Careers Booklet containing biographies of successful women who have chosen interesting and rewarding computer-related careers has been produced to motivate young women at the undergraduate and high school levels to consider a career in computer science. Women professionals distribute the booklet in high schools, give talks, and provide advice and mentoring. CRA-W is also involved in recognizing talent at the undergraduate and faculty levels by presenting awards at various conferences. A CRA-W newsletter column titled, Expanding the Pipeline, addresses problems that women in computing face such as the two-body problem (where only one of two spouses receives tenure, usually the male), high drop-out rates, leave policies, etc.

Few conferences come close to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in providing avenues for professional networking and mentoring. The first of these conferences was held in June 1994 and featured technical presentations by prominent women in computing fields. During the EHR-sponsored Women & Science conference, plans for the follow-up Grace Hopper conference were solidified. The next one will be held in 1997. Another CRA-W project, Systers-Academia, modeled after the Systers Network, serves as an electronic forum to provide an additional venue for mentoring women and graduate students in the field.

Anita Borg's dream, to have equal numbers of women and men in computer and information science and engineering by the year 2010, a project entitled, 50-50 by 2010, constitutes a significant challenge. The 1995 Women & Science conference generated a lively discussion of the project and many useful ideas that can help make Anita's dream a reality.

Views from the Participants

"In recent years, there has been a small increase in the number of women Ph.D. recipients in computer science and engineering (CS&E).

Out of 710 women in the [women in computing] database, 235 are Ph.D. students, and 449 already have Ph.Ds.

The fact that more women are going for Ph.Ds is definitely encouraging, since these women are more likely to be in positions to close the gender gap in CS&E by playing leadership roles and by being role models.

A more recent study, however, shows that there is a decrease in the percentages of women who intend to major in CS&E.

In parallel to efforts by NSF and the Computer Research Association (CRA), it is important to have programs directed to students at earlier stages in their education."

"In my work with high school students, I have seen that there are still serious stereotypes that need to be overcome (e.g., many girls still think that computers are used for number-crunching only).

But I have also seen that it doesn't take very long to change individuals' minds about the field.

What works best is the one-on-one contact between senior and junior computer scientists, especially when both are women.

However, there are still too few senior women in my field to provide this kind of contact to enough younger women without compromising their own careers."


Status Report

Although they have made tremendous progress, women remain more underrepresented in engineering than in any other field. In 1973, women accounted for between 1 and 2 percent of all higher education degrees awarded in engineering. By 1994, the proportion of degrees awarded to women had grown to 17 percent at the bachelor's level, 15 percent at the master's level, and 11 percent at the doctoral level. However, many of these gains were in place by the mid-1980s. Since then, progress has slowed. Within subfields of engineering, women are best represented in chemical and industrial engineering where close to a one-third of the bachelor's degrees are awarded to women. They remain least well represented in electrical and aeronautical engineering, where they account for 11 to 12 percent of bachelor's degrees.

The proportion of engineering faculty who are women remains alarmingly low, although there has been some progress. However, just 19 percent of women faculty in engineering were full professors in 1992 compared with 33 percent of men. In nonacademic positions, women accounted for 9 percent of engineers in 1990 compared with just 4 percent a decade earlier.

Figure 5  |  Figure 6


The engineering group focused on the extreme underrepresentation--at all levels of education and career--of women in engineering and on the changing societal demands on engineering and engineers. Perhaps now more than ever the international competitiveness of the United States requires a well-educated and diverse engineering workforce. At the same time, the definition of well-educated is changing and will continue to change. Telecommunications, biotechnology, and other fields require engineers with diverse perspectives, interdisciplinary talents, and greater communications skills. At the same time, the labor market for engineers has been challenged as a result of the downsizing of the federal budget for defense and space exploration. Women need to view these challenges as opportunities and capitalize on them as such.

Change the Perceptions

Societal images of engineers and engineering are hampering efforts to attract women to the profession. Women (and all) engineers need to address the public about who engineers are and what they do. Images that are damaging to women's progress in engineering must be counteracted with positive images and role models. Perceptions of the capability of women held by those in the profession of engineering must also change. Women must make clear that intended and unintended acts that result in their exclusion will not be tolerated.

Monitoring Progress

Because women are woefully underrepresented in engineering at all levels, benchmarks need to be developed so that the progress of women can be monitored and evaluated over time. Best practices need to be identified and duplicated in all areas of education and career--from kindergarten to postdoctoral levels, industry, and academia.

Nurturing and Networking

To promote the progress of women within engineering, opportunities for nurturing and mentoring must be made available so that more experienced women can pass on what they have learned to students and young professionals. Women engineers need to reach out to young girls through schools and community organizations such as the Girl Scouts and other groups. A network of women engineers at all ranks of industry and academia would complement these efforts.

Views of Assistant Director Joseph Bordogna

Conference Statement

We in the Engineering Directorate are embracing a strategy that will enable women to succeed. We have an early career development program (called CAREER) that is intended to integrate research and education as a strategy over time. CAREER is an excellent venue to make good use of that special talent.

We have the GOALI Program (Grant Opportunities for Academic Liaison with Industry). GOALI gives professors and students the chance to spend extended periods of time in industry collaborating on research projects of mutual interest. It also has a component that enables engineers from industry to serve for extended periods in academic research labs, in classrooms, and even on curriculum committees. This gives women the opportunity to influence both cultures and expand their own horizons.

I think we should embrace women enablement tactics within the true meaning of affirmative action. One-half of the advisory committees should be women. Women should be on all the panels. Action groups at NSF should include women. We have an engineering education coalitions program, and it's funded very handsomely from NSF to change all engineering schools' undergraduate programs. Women are taking leadership here because the coalitions program requires research-education integration. We should fast track women graduate students into the professoriate. If there are more women there, we solve a lot of the problems of academe.

Finally, none of this happens without leadership, and we should be pushed to make sure we lead well.

Post-Conference Reflections

Today's engineering students will spend most of their careers in the twenty-first century coping with challenges and opportunities vastly different from those experienced by engineers of the last one-half century. The intellectual skills of tomorrow's engineers will extend well beyond the traditional science-focused preparation that has characterized engineering education since World War II. Underlying this trend is a number of factors, including global commercial competition as a major driver for industrial organization and engineering employment; opportunities offered by intelligent technology to be more creative and work smarter; an expanding social infrastructure that demands a talent for complexity; an eclectic, constantly-changing work environment calling for astute interpersonal skills; and massively integrated populations placing environment, health, and safety at the front end of design.

The Engineering Directorate is crafting its education and research programs and its internal management strategy to enable the nation's engineers to take advantage of these opportunities and contribute fully to society's cultural progress and quality of life. Toward this end, the Directorate is emphasizing the broad concept of acting affirmatively in all interactions with its constituencies. For example, program officers' success in achieving diversity in all aspects of their professional duties is explicitly noticed and rewarded. All professional staff appointments are made through the Directorate's Personnel Search Committee, which seeks out excellent women candidates for every position. As a result, the number of women program officers in engineering has increased dramatically over the past several years. The Directorate's external advisory committee is composed of approximately equal numbers of men and women, all with stature in the engineering community.

NSF's high profile in the academic community brings with it the responsibility to lead by working continuously, sensitively, and comprehensively to increase the diversity of the pool of proposers, reviewers, and candidates for NSF staff positions. The heads of the various divisions in the Engineering Directorate are expected to be proactive in addressing this issue when they travel to conferences and universities, especially in talks they present on NSF programs and priorities.

Views from the Participants

"During the last 5 years, the College of Engineering at my university has greatly benefited from its participation in NSF's Engineering Education Coalitions program.

Our coalition has had a significant effect on the transformation of the lower division curriculum.

Our approach has appealed to a diverse set of learning styles rather than only to those students whose learning styles match those encountered in the traditional classroom.

This type of long-term commitment from NSF has been highly successful.

Continuing this approach to the development of the undergraduate curriculum in a broad manner will make engineering a more attractive career choice for a diverse group of students."

"As an engineer and researcher, my experience of the climate in engineering is that it is very uncomfortable for women.

The problems are due to many cultural behaviors that could change if the men in power chose to recognize those behaviors and change them.

Because the men in power have no motivation to give up some of their power, the problems remain.

Voluntary desire to be politically correct is not going to become a pervasive part of the white male structure in engineering.

With our government in fiscal crisis, it is imperative that efforts by NSF be directed to programs that will force those in power to replace the system with one that works for everyone.

I am calling for programs that require lasting paradigm shifts among university administrators and educators."

Geosciences and Polar Programs

Status Report

In 1994, women in the geosciences (earth, atmospheric, and oceanographic sciences) accounted for 31 percent of bachelor's degrees awarded, 30 percent of master's and 22 percent of doctorates. This compares favorably with the situation in 1973, when women earned 12 percent of bachelor's and master's degrees awarded and just 4 percent of doctorates. Within the subfields of the geosciences, there is considerable variation in terms of the participation of women. Women remain least well represented in the atmospheric sciences
where they earned just 19 percent of bachelor's degrees and most well represented in earth science where they earned 33 percent of bachelor's degrees in 1994.

Figure 7


The geosciences group discussed methods to attract and retain girls and women at the elementary, secondary, and undergraduate levels; those at the graduate and postdoctoral education levels; and those who have entered geoscience careers. The participants felt that much progress has been made by women in the geosciences over the last several decades, however, barriers still exist to the entry and retention of women. It was noted that improving the climate for women will require collaborative efforts among individuals, professional societies, academic institutions, industry, and state and federal governments.


To monitor the progress of women, the availability and accuracy of relevant data in the geosciences disciplines needs to be ensured.

Education, Curriculum, and Teacher Development

Studies indicate that women show more interest in problems set in a real-world context and approach problems in a holistic manner. By integrating geosciences education with instruction in other sciences (as recommended by the National Science Education Standards), rather than teaching each subject separately, girls and women may find the sciences more appealing. Instruction in the geosciences should also make use of more hands-on, cooperative projects (methods believed to be more relevant to female learners than the more traditional competitive approaches). In addition, the community should recognize that increasing the participation of a more diverse population requires that schools and colleges make use of curricula that are more gender-neutral, much of which is already available but not widely disseminated. Teachers (particularly at the elementary level) should receive better training to teach subjects in the geosciences in a manner that incorporates these ideas.

Integration of Research and Education

Bridging the gap between research and education is important at all levels. Methods that could be promoted to encourage collaboration between science educators at the K-12 level and scientists at colleges, universities, and in industry include electronic bridges, industry mentorships for teachers, and summer internships. At colleges and universities, the reward system should be redesigned to encourage faculty to engage in education and K-12 curriculum development as well as research. Opportunities should be provided for women to be involved in research as early as possible in their academic careers.

Networking, Mentoring, and Capacity Building

Women in the geosciences suffer from a lack of visibility. A number of mechanisms can counter this by providing for increased interaction among students and faculty across institutions. These include the expansion of NSF's visiting professorships for women; the provision of travel grants for students to attend professional meetings; the development and dissemination of speakers' lists; and the establishment of summer institutes for women that focus on skills, leadership, career planning, and mentoring. Mentoring programs, which provide women students with longer-term, one-on-one contact with role models, should be strongly supported.

Career Advancement

At a time when funds for science are shrinking and the number of women entering science professions is increasing, it is particularly important to ensure that women are not squeezed out. Although their numbers in the field have increased, women in the geosciences are seldom found in the senior ranks. Institutions need to promote more favorable climates for women to succeed. For instance, the promotion/advancement reward structure must be revised to assign value to education, service, and outreach activities (areas that are equally important to the scientific enterprise and in which women often excel) relative to research. Women also face the issue of balancing family life with education-to-workplace transitions; these two issues are inextricably intertwined in women's lives and affect their retention in the field. Policies and programs should be implemented that would allow for greater career flexibility. For example, the problem of reentry after parental leave needs to be addressed so it does not become an irreversible setback in a woman's career progress. In addition, more information about career ladders and career alternatives to academe needs to be made available.

Views of Assistant Director Robert Corell

Conference Statement

I see this as a unique conference, a starting point, a nest within which new strategies and approaches can be developed, nurtured, and ultimately implemented. We in the geosciences care about this, and we've made some progress. We've put a great deal of effort into this issue over the past decade or more and developed partnerships to implement new programs and activities that we hope will make a difference. But we have a long way to go.

Our fields are fields that historically have not attracted women in the ranks of scholarship as well as industry. However, over the past 25 years, baccalaureate degrees have gone up by a factor of 3, master's degrees have gone up by a factor of 4, Ph.Ds have gone up by a factor of 7. So, while the overall proportions are in the 25 to 30 percent range for these various degrees, that's a dramatic change from single-digit participation in the 1960s and 1970s. It is my pleasure to be here with you today to hear your questions and seek a mutual understanding about how we take the next steps.

Post-Conference Reflections

Attending the Women & Science conference was a powerful experience. I was struck by the enthusiasm with which the conference was received. It offered a valuable opportunity to recognize and celebrate the tremendous achievements made by women in all areas of science, as well as an opportunity to identify the challenges that remain.

There is considerable reason to celebrate the successes women have made in the geosciences. Only a few decades ago women were not permitted to participate in most research cruises, were discouraged from participating in fieldwork and, until 1969, U.S. women scientists were not allowed to conduct research in Antarctica. These barriers have since been eliminated. Statistics presented at the conference demonstrated that the numbers of women receiving undergraduate and graduate degrees in the geosciences has dramatically increased over the last several decades. Within the Geosciences Directorate, the women's success rate (the number of awards divided by the number of proposals submitted) for peer-reviewed proposals has equaled or exceeded that of their male counterparts for the last several years.

I am committed to seeing that this trend continues. The Directorate participates in a range of activities, working with other government agencies as well as professional societies, designed to enhance diversity. We are continuing to work to integrate human resources development in our ongoing programs. In addition, the Directorate has made a concerted effort to ensure that there is broad representation of all groups on our scientific and professional staffs; in our advisory panels and committees; in our pool of reviewers; in our K-12 outreach programs; and in our undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral research programs. Our efforts are reviewed on a biennial basis by a committee of representatives of the scientific community that we serve.

Much work remains to be done if we are to achieve parity in the geosciences. While the barriers that exist today may not be as egregious as the ones of decades ago, their results are equally detrimental if they inhibit the participation of women. However, it was clear, both from the poster and breakout sessions, that many exciting programs have been undertaken by the scientific community to address this issue. During the geosciences session at the conference, some excellent strategies, many of which resurfaced in other sessions, were identified for enhancing the participation of women.

We must capitalize on the momentum that this conference has generated. I have requested that a team of program officers, representative of our respective divisions, work with the senior management of the Directorate to carefully review the recommendations made at the Women & Science conference. This process is underway and will ultimately result in a strategic plan for the Directorate.

The success of any strategy will require the full participation of the scientific community, including government agencies, academic institutions, industry and individuals. During this period of flat or potentially declining research budgets, we must increase our vigilance to see that the number and prominence of women in our discipline continues to increase -- not simply because it's the right thing to do, but because enhancing diversity will improve our science.

Views from the Participants

"A clear and dramatic increase has occurred over the past decade in the number of professional women in the field of oceanography/marine sciences.

A combination of the awareness of the problem on the part of institutions, equal employment opportunity and other programs, and the
increasing acceptance by male oceanographers have played a role in this.

I have noticed a bias toward women candidates in our recent recruiting because they are
often overachievers and very competitive.

On the other hand, their proportion in the labor pool remains low."

"A growing trend, at least in academic geoscience departments, is toward flexible hiring arrangements for women to enable them to have both a career and a family.

The situation I am most familiar with is the split, or shared, position.

A husband and wife team share one salaried position between them in addition to household/child rearing duties.

There is no inherent reason why this arrangement should only be available to married couples.

The arrangement may become more inclusive over time."

Mathematical and Physical Sciences

Status Report

Women in the mathematical and physical sciences (MPS) report substantial progress in the past 21 years. Women earned 40 percent of the bachelor's degrees awarded in 1994 in MPS, 34 percent of the master's, and 21 percent of doctorates. In 1973, women earned 30 percent of bachelor's, 22 percent of master's, and 8 percent of doctorates. Within the disciplinary fields of MPS, women were best represented in the mathematical sciences, where nearly one-half (46 percent) of bachelor's degrees were earned by women in 1994. They were most underrepresented in physics, where just 18 percent of bachelor's degrees awarded went to women.

However, at the faculty level women can report virtually no progress in MPS in recent years. Moreover, comparatively few women (6 percent) in mathematics were full professors in 1992 compared with men (28 percent).

Figure 8  |  Figure 9  |  Figure 10


The mathematical and physical sciences (MPS) group discussed issues within the whole of the MPS fields as well as in specific fields such as astronomy, chemistry, mathematics, materials science, and physics. Much of the discussion focused on changing the culture within the education and research institutions and renewing attention to increasing the participation of women at all levels and within all fields of MPS.


Women in MPS need mentoring experiences and role models. Although important at all levels of education and career, this is especially important for students and young professionals, particularly in fields of MPS where women are most underrepresented (e.g., physics). Nurturing could take a variety of forms such as support for young women students to working with faculty on real world research projects, quality academic and career advisement, and financial support.


Opportunities must be made for increased networking among women across disciplines, geographic distances, institutions, and levels of the education system. Connections between women's studies and science and women scientists could be very beneficial. Young women need to be informed of the importance of mentoring in building and sustaining careers in MPS. Additional support could also be made available for a small cadre of women to serve as role models by bringing their messages, advice, and stories to women on a national scale.

Transform the System

Many of the problems of women in MPS are endemic to the culture of the education and research system itself. Therefore, attention should be paid to the system as a whole rather than to isolated parts. Institutions should be held accountable for the success of women and other underrepresented groups as students and career professionals. Support for women throughout the entire system would enable women to make successful transitions from high school to college to career. Family-friendly policies would enable women to concentrate on their professional endeavors while knowing that their familial obligations will be more easily met. Service and teaching activities must be better rewarded by institutions of higher education.

Value Contributions of Education Institutions

Elementary and secondary schools, 2-year colleges, and 4-year colleges all provide the foundation for women and girls to achieve excellence as MPS professionals. The importance of this must be recognized at all levels. Colleges, universities, and industry should play a more active, collaborative role in improving K-16 education and scientific literacy in MPS fields.

Views of Assistant Director William Harris

Conference Statement

In competing for grants in MPS, women principal investigators do, by and large, better than men. The success rate is approximately 38 percent. Women have been very successful in the CAREER program for young faculty members, earning 28 percent of the awards.

We have changed, rather significantly, the participation of women in the program officer's corps in MPS over the last few years; it has more than doubled. Women now represent almost 25 percent of the MPS program officer's corps. Their presence changes the way the Directorate does business. MPS intends to continue to emphasize the participation of women.

Post-Conference Reflections

Women should be involved in every aspect of professional scientific life. On a practical basis, MPS can help to influence change at universities and other institutions in a variety of ways through proposal submission policies, procedures, and related activities.

Recently MPS revised its staff memorandum, Policies to Promote the Full Participation of Women, Minorities, and Disabled Persons in Science, to more clearly define responsibilities of senior managers and program staff. An annual report from each MPS division summarizing its activities in each of several important areas is required. These areas include staffing and staff orientation, inclusion of underrepresented minorities and women on review committees and their use as ad hoc reviewers, encouragement of and help with proposals through information dissemination with respect to programs and proposal preparation, site visits, and technical assistance. Program officers are expected to ensure that funded conference proposals provide appropriately for participation by women and for child care.

Supplements for projects that extend integrated research and education goals are now part of the CAREER program and suggest a possible mode of support for encouraging research-based education projects. Also, supplements for personal computers or equipment that allow expectant or new mothers to continue their research at home could be considered.

NSF could support grant writing workshops to focus attention on advising women on successful proposal preparation. Funding rates, averaged over the period from FY92 through FY95, have been at least as good for women as for men. However, the number of proposals from women remain small, reflecting in part the dominance of males in the universities submitting proposals. Fortunately, opportunities for women will increase, assuming no dramatic downsizing in faculty numbers, in the next few years since the average age of faculty in some disciplines is in the 50s.

Views from the Participants

"Creating interest among women in the physical 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 hands-on
experience with the materials.

The perception that physical sciences are "too hard for a girl" can only be overcome when girls believe they can do the work."

"The single most important trend that creates, improves, and supports opportunities for women in the physical sciences is the presence of other successful women in the field.

Increasing the number of women in science decreases the solitude of the struggle.

Most importantly, the infrastructure necessary to support women in science will not be built without a representative number of women in the field."

"A significant trend that is reshaping the status of opportunities for women in mathematics--both in mathematics education and in careers that rely heavily on mathematics--is the increased awareness that women possess the analytical thinking skills to do mathematics and that women can excel in mathematics-related careers."

Social and Behavioral Sciences

Status Report

Women are not underrepresented in the social and behavioral sciences as a whole. Women earned more than one-half of bachelor's degrees (58 percent) and master's degrees (56 percent) that were awarded in 1994 and nearly one-half (49 percent) of doctorates. This was not the case in 1973 when women earned 40 percent of bachelor's, 29 percent of master's, and 21 percent of doctoral degrees. Within the social and behavioral sciences, however, women are still underrepresented in economics, where they earn just 29 percent of bachelor's degrees and political science where they earned 45 percent of bachelor's degrees.

At faculty levels, women are most well represented in psychology. Indeed, women have made tremendous progress in psychology from 1987 to 1992. However, in the social sciences, no progress has been made recently.

Figure 11  |  Figure 12  |  Figure 13


The representation of women has increased dramatically in the social and behavioral sciences as a whole in the last 21 years. As a result, the social and behavioral sciences group chose to focus on problems that are associated with the high rates of female participation--such as gaining tenure and promotion and the "feminization" of the field. However, not all subfields in the social and behavioral sciences are without problems of underrepresentation. In economics and political science, women continue to be underrepresented, receiving less than one-third of the doctorates in these fields.


Psychology, anthropology, and sociology have become "feminized" because of a simultaneous drop in the number of men entering the field and an increase in the number of women. Men became less interested in these fields because of low salaries relative to other fields. The influx of women, because women's work tends to be devalued, contributed to the declining status of these fields and was reinforced by low salaries and the drop in the number of men. Although women's earnings are approaching those of men, women are less willing to fight for higher salaries. Men are now choosing sociology in larger numbers; however, there are no indications why they are returning to the field or what effect this will have on the status of women.

Promotion and Advancement

Women often lack opportunities for promotion and advancement within the social sciences. In some fields, such as psychology, women are well represented in the lower ranks; in other fields, such as economics, geography, and political science, women remain underrepresented at all levels. Because there are few women faculty role models, there are greater time demands on women faculty as mentors for female students. Women of color continue to face even greater challenges. The changing academic market with fewer tenure-track positions and more temporary assignments exacerbates the problems faced by women. Disproportionately, women serve as part-time and temporary faculty and are often found in 2- and 4-year schools rather than research institutions. Women need to aggressively promote their professional activities as well as apply more frequently for research grants, mentor junior staff and students, and enlist the support of their male colleagues. NSF needs to encourage women to apply for grants, thereby increasing their visibility and productivity and facilitating their movement into senior positions.

Views of Assistant Director Cora Marrett

Conference Statement

There are three reasons why all scientists and engineers should be interested in the status of women in the social, behavioral, and economic sciences. The first is that many of the issues call for greater knowledge about programs and their effects, family influences, and social processes that social and behavioral scientists study. The second reason is that many of the concerns of women in science and engineering span disciplines. Third, there are higher rates of participation for women in at least some of the social and behavioral sciences compared to the other sciences.

Let me note at the outset that the participation rate for women varies across the social and behavioral sciences. Perhaps something can be learned from the variety of experiences across disciplines.

On the disturbing side, some of the fields that are experiencing increasing numbers of women have not seen a similar increase in the rates of participation in influential positions. Efforts to change numbers must be accompanied by efforts to improve retention, promotion, and advancement.

The other disturbing sign is the "feminization" of those fields in which the numbers of women have been growing. There is a long-term tendency for areas dominated by women to suffer lower compensation and prestige. No necessary connection exists, but clearly that is an issue that we all must be concerned about.

The Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences is responsible for collecting data on the status of women, minorities, and persons with disabilities. We produce a report of which we are very proud: The Foundation's biennial report to Congress, Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering. We also fund research, especially on the status of women in the social and behavioral sciences, and hold conferences and activities, especially on the subject of women in economics. We provide support wherever we can in connection with our colleagues across the rest of the Foundation.

Post-Conference Reflections

The Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE) is continuing its efforts to enhance the status of women in the social, behavioral, and economic sciences by supporting research by and on women in the sciences, collecting data on the participation of women in the sciences, and promoting programs for women. Consider the following tasks:

Views of Assistant Director Luther S. Williams

Conference Statement

In our strategic plan, NSF in a Changing World, one of three goals is the provision for excellent science, mathematics, engineering, and technology education for all students at all educational levels. What I would like to do is to take a few minutes to point out some issues and opportunities offered by the Directorate for Education and Human Resources.

First, there is the quality advice that we garner from the broad community. We need individuals with a wide range of views and backgrounds to participate as members of a national advisory committee to guide the Directorate's planning.

Second, there is the diversity issue not only at the program officer level but also in leadership roles throughout the various programs of the Directorate. We need program officers and division directors who shape programs and define their components.

Third, there is the issue of balancing priorities. We must effectively ensure substantial participation of women in our mainstream programs in addition to offering targeted, highly specific programs designed to achieve highly specific goals in a finite time period.

Along with these issues, we must make sure that the broad diversity of the scientific and technical enterprise is represented at all levels of education and career. This involves monitoring who receives NSF awards, who assumes leadership roles, and who directs the broad educational agenda independent of its level, whether it is K to 12, undergraduate, graduate, and obviously, science and engineering professionals.

Post-Conference Reflections

The Women & Science conference was a milestone in NSF's history of furthering research and education in science and engineering. The conference was the first of its kind where women from all areas of science and education came together to formulate an agenda for the future. It was also the first conference that actively incorporated the views and ideas of all parts of the National Science Foundation in the planning stage. In my view, the conference provided an important platform for us to reexamine our programs and policies in order to ensure we can meet the challenges posed in the future.

I would like to tell you a little about what the Directorate for Education and Human Resources is doing to promote diversity in science and engineering particularly as it affects women.

Finally, I wish to point out that all of our programs undergo a rigorous process of evaluation and all projects are expected to evaluate their outcomes and disseminate the best of their results and findings. Only through this systematic examination can we hope to learn what works and how we can best share this with the community.

Views from the Participants

"The single most dramatic trend in academic sociology since the 1970s has been the feminization of the discipline's recruitment pool.

Contrary to conventional wisdom that feminization leads to occupational decline, data strongly suggest that as the field declined in prestige and earnings, men moved to other training programs.

This opened up additional graduate slots for women, who were themselves newly interested in the field.

Signs of renewal have once again surfaced.

Median annual salaries of sociologists are once again on the increase, and women sociologists have narrowed the gender gap in earnings."

"Although women and men are earning an equal number of sociology doctoral degrees -- as measured in a variety of ways -- women are not achieving parity in the discipline.

Women earn significantly lower salaries than men.

Women reported fewer experiences serving as peer reviewers, making public appearances as experts, working as primary researchers, or publishing in academic journals."

The CURIES Conference: Gender, Research, Practice, and Policy

The Cross University Research in Engineering and Science (CURIES) group on women and gender in science, engineering, and mathematics sponsored a conference in May 1994 to assess current knowledge and set an agenda for future research, practice, and policy. The goal of this agenda was to ensure equitable opportunities for women in scientific and technical fields. The key recommendations included:

Source: The Equity Agenda: Women in Science, Mathematics and Engineering. Copies of this report can be ordered from: The Center for the Education of Women, University of Michigan, 330 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor, MI 48104-2289. E-mail request to

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