By Roberta Attanasio, Forever Leaders Editor
The authors of an article published a few months ago in the scientific journal PLOS Biology (The gender gap in Science: How long until women are equally represented) examined the gender gap in the Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine (STEMM) workforce, and stated that “Despite recent progress, the gender gap appears likely to persist for generations, particularly in surgery, computer science, physics, and maths.” They conclude that the STEMM gender gap will not close without further reforms in education, mentoring, and academic publishing
Therefore, more needs to be done to reach gender equality in the sciences. In a recent FEBS Network blog post, Laura Norton wrote: “For science to flourish and progress we need a diversity of inputs and talents. If we’re all the same, if we think in the same way, our science will be limited. The huge challenge of understanding the world around us demands input from different approaches. Contributions from all genders are vital to create an inclusive and motivating environment that science and each individual will benefit from.”
During the US symposium for Elsevier’s Gender in the Global Research Landscape, Rita Colwell, Chair of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Committee on Women in Science, Engineering and Medicine, called on support for the social and behavioral sciences to continue investigating the issues facing the advancement of women in science, and to generate the data needed to drive cultural and policy change for global gender equality. She quoted Dr. Marcia McNutt, Director of the National Academies of Science: “Science without policy is still science, policy without science is gambling. We can’t afford to gamble.”
Accordingly, U.S. funding agencies are committed to bringing gender equality to STEM and, for the past several years, have implemented gender-diversity programs. One of these programs, the National Science Foumdation’s ADVANCE, is designed to foster gender equity through a focus on the identification and elimination of organizational barriers that impede the full participation and advancement of all women faculty in academic institutions.
“The goal of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) ADVANCE program is to increase the representation and advancement of women in academic science and engineering careers, thereby contributing to the development of a more diverse science and engineering workforce. ADVANCE encourages institutions of higher education and the broader science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) community, including professional societies and other STEM-related not-for-profit organizations, to address various aspects of STEM academic culture and institutional structure that may differentially affect women faculty and academic administrators. As such, ADVANCE is an integral part of the NSF’s multifaceted strategy to broaden participation in the STEM workforce, and supports the critical role of the Foundation in advancing the status of women in academic science and engineering.”
As ADVANCE continues to be implemented all around the country, is there evidence that the program benefits more than just the women faculty involved? To address this question, researchers at Montana State University—over the course of 3 years—collected data from male and female tenure-track faculty members across disciplines who felt involved in one of the ADVANCE programs. This specific program was designed and implemented around Project TRACS, comprised of three initiatives: enhancing research capacity and opportunity, enhancing work-life integration, and enhancing cultural attunement.
The researchers assessed universal psychological needs: make meaningful connections with others (relatedness), have flexibility and choice over processes and outcomes (autonomy), and feel efficacious in mastering their environment (competence). Together, these three psychological needs are thought to form the basis of human motivation. When these needs are optimally satisfied, people experience “self-determination.”
The researchers found that—for everyone, regardless of gender or field of study—involvement in the program predicted a significant positive change in overall feelings of autonomy, competence, and relatedness and, therefore, predicted satisfaction of universal psychological needs. In addition, this change was associated with positive changes in job satisfaction over time among all faculty.
The researchers concluded that it is possible to focus on faculty diversity, equity, and inclusion in ways that have wide-spread positive impacts on all who feel involved.
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