Women in Science

Monday, June 6, 2005 11:30 AM-1:00 PM
G-50 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Introductory Remarks


Over the last few decades, women have made significant strides in the attainment of high status professions in areas like medicine, law and the arts. Despite these advances, women continue to be underrepresented in science and engineering fields. Women still hold fewer upper level positions, bring in lower wages, and face barriers and stereotypes at many levels.

This briefing explored the factors that influence women’s participation in the sciences. It focused on the contribution of both social factors and innate differences between the sexes as well as the role of education and learning in shaping the experience of girls in science.


The ACS Science & the Congress Project in conjunction with the Senate Science & Technology Caucus

Featured Speakers

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ACS Capitol Connection

Women continue to be under-represented in science and engineering fields, particularly in academic and top-level management positions. At an ACS Science & the Congress briefing on June 6, psychology and sociology experts discussed research that looks to explain this disparity in gender participation. Senator Bingaman (D-NM) gave opening remarks highlighting the importance of tapping our entire talent pool to encourage the strongest possible future science and technology workforce.

Diane Halpern, professor of psychology and director of the Berger Institute for Work, Family, and Children at Claremont McKenna College, spoke first and discussed sex differences in cognitive abilities. She pointed out that differences are not immutable, nor are they deficiencies. Dr. Halpern provided examples of cognitive tasks that usually show sex differences including higher fine motor tasks and speech articulation for women and higher visuospatial transformations and fluid reasoning tasks for men—scientists and engineers tend to utilize these sets of skills.

Virginia Valian, professor of psychology and linguistics at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, described her research into gender schemas or non-conscious hypotheses about males and females. She described the subtle and unintentional bias that all people hold toward women in science citing a study into competency and likeability of men and women in management positions. Dr. Valian made the point that gender schemas do in fact have a very small effect, but that there is an accumulation of advantage (e.g. small gains multiply) over the course of a career and help to explain gender differences in top-level positions.

Kimberlee Shauman, assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, Davis, wrapped up the session by illustrating the increases over the last 30 years in women’s graduation rates with science and engineering degrees. She countered these statistics with persistent inequalities between men and women in science and engineering fields in transitioning to the labor market and wage earnings. Dr. Shauman explained these inequalities through employment setting (more women in teaching colleges), employment field (more women in biological sciences than engineering), and familial gender roles (parenthood has a negative effect on women’s participation).

During questions and answers, the speakers were asked what they would recommend as the one change that would have the biggest impact on women’s participation in science. Dr. Halpern suggested a change in the tenure process for academics, which competes with the biological clock. Dr. Valian proposed increased funding to implement ideas for institutional change in the academy to improve policies and procedures that inadvertently put women at a disadvantage. Dr. Shauman suggested increasing child day care at academic institutions and professional meetings. Both Dr. Valian and Dr. Shauman noted the National Science Foundation ADVANCE grant as a successful program toward improving the academic climate for women and supported increased funding for it.