Shirley Malcom, head of the Directorate for Education and Human Resources Programs at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), led the concluding discussion at the workshop. Malcom started by sharing her work as a U.S. public delegate for the 2011 United Nations (UN) Commission on the Status of Women, where she was charged with infusing the status of women in science and technology into the gender-based discussions. At both this and the 1999 UN World Conference on Science, people did not see the connection between science and technology and gender. In order to promote gender diversity in science and technology, Malcom concluded, the language used to promote initiatives may need to be changed to connect most effectively with the decision-making audiences. In other words, the “wrapper” or packaging of the issues becomes exceedingly important. Refraining from using broad terms such as “gender mainstreaming” is imperative. Rather, Malcom urged the use of formal analysis to determine the impact of decisions on both men and women. She emphasized, “It’s not just about one [gender] or the other, but it’s both. It’s basically an understanding that if there is a different impact, what does it look like? … And is this in the end going to make a positive difference on this society?”
Malcom noted that many nonwestern countries’ gender policies are significantly more advanced than in the United States and with a higher level of tolerance. For example, many countries have sex quotas in governance. In many cases, these countries emerged out of revolutions in which women played an active part, so women were incorporated into the post-revolution governance structure. After the genocide tragedy in Rwanda, the next parliament consisted of over 50 percent women. This percentage was achieved partly through the sex quota system and partly through women running for regular (non-quota) seats in the government. Women were the majority in the country, and economic development necessitated policies that treated women equitably.
She discussed how to justify special projects for minority groups to the majority in power and how to implement change. If the program does not work well for women and minorities, it may not work for the majority either, although it may not be obvious that it does not work well. Malcom described a calculus project that Uri Treisman created to promote individualized instruction. Initially, the program worked to increase minority success in calculus but was eventually shown to improve all students’ success, regardless of status. Instead of trying to focus solely on minorities, the calculus project changed the system overall, which benefited everyone.
Malcom also spoke on the leadership changes in her own organization. After cracking the glass ceiling by having the first woman president of AAAS, approximately 40 percent of subsequent presidents have been women. Malcom suggested that, based on her experience, the challenge is often the advancement of only one woman to a high-level position; after one woman advances, other institutional changes follow organically. In the case of AAAS, a female president
made a difference for many reasons. Her presence helped to change the norms of the organization, if not the normative behavior of its members. As the gender composition of the AAAS membership changed to include more females, the priorities and interests of the new members had a significant impact on the organization. The larger female membership base also facilitated access to more talent to fill higher leadership positions, which improved the gender diversity in leadership roles and encouraged change in the organization.
To effectively increase gender diversity in science and technology, the role of data is critical: “We cannot operate off of what we do not know.” She called for data that are disaggregated by field, subfield, race, sex, and geographical location. With appropriate data disaggregation, a clear understanding of why diversity issues are different in one location compared with another will arise and lead to informed action.
Many organizations, such as Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization (UNESCO), have advocated for disaggregated data, as have countries such as Brazil and South Africa that have historical issues related to minority advancement. However, it seems to be more difficult to get disaggregated data from some European countries where there appears to be current ethnic equity problems, and governments do not want to deal with these problems.
Malcom also commented on the discussion concerning career “choice” and “interest.” The term “choice” does not always apply in cross-national contexts, and new ways of thinking or new terminology may be necessary. “We have been living in a context where the jobs and the education have been structured to fit males’ lives. So what does that [structure] look like … if we imagined the lives of people who want to have a life? I think that imagining a different kind of context is what is hanging us up. We have the current models and we cannot imagine other models.”
She noted that in many cases imagining a new and different model was restricted by the belief that the current model is correct, or is the only model. For example, Malcom argued a case for the possibility of half-time jobs and half-time tenured positions, which would challenge structural norms. To encourage diversity, she challenged female scientists and engineers to imagine different structural contexts and make changes proactively. Over time, societies have modified their behavior, such as the networking opportunities formally provided at professional meetings. A good example is that of “smokers.”1
We have been living in a context where the jobs and the education have been structured to fit males’ lives. So what does that [structure] look like ... if we imagined the lives of people who want to have a life? I think that imagining a different kind of context is what is hanging us up. We have the current models and we cannot imagine other models.
Malcom talked about the GenderInSITE Initiative started by several international groups, including the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World, the Gender Advisory Board of the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development, and
1 “Smokers” were informal gatherings of colleagues to exchange ideas and network. In some cases, faculty at academic institutions would hold “smokers” and, in other cases, they might be held in conjunction with professional meetings. The term “smoker” is derived from the prevalence of smoking as a very common habit in the 1950s-1970s; many of those who attended these meetings were likely to smoke at the meetings. The term also has an intellectual reference to the emergence of ideas, akin to a fire that is stoked by many people.
UNESCO. The Initiative aims to shift the discussion on gender and science and technology to gain broader buy-in and to make clear that major shifts in investments will not be required. Meanwhile, the Initiative seeks to make gender discussions important to policy-makers and business leaders in many countries worldwide.
Finally, Malcom challenged participants to look at the changes that have been made and to think about additional ones; programmatic change is necessary for long-term structural change. There is still ignorance about potentially promising institutional changes, witnessed by recent debates over a 1999 report on the status of female faculty in the School of Science and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.2 Advocates of women’s participation in science and engineering need to understand that some beliefs regarding the intellectual inferiority of women still exist. Confronting the bias is always difficult, but women and men should be willing to stand up to it.
The workshop was formally adjourned by Catherine Didion, director of Committee of Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine.