The scientific and technological strength of the United States on the global stage is at a critical juncture. As other nations expand their scientific and technological capacity, U.S. research and educational institutions and industries encounter difficulties in attracting and retaining individuals in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—the STEM disciplines. The United States needs “all hands on deck” and must attract and retain its top talent in science and engineering. Demographic shifts underway mean that the pool of talent from which the nation draws is becoming more and more diverse, with present-day “minorities” projected to not be in the minority by 2050.1
Universities, however, are often ill-equipped to train and support people of color, especially women. Instead of having all hands on deck, US institutions watch large numbers of students, teachers, and researchers leave the STEM pathway at several key transition points. One major reason for the mass departures is the fact that academic culture tends to be easily supportive of only a narrow swath of the American population, frequently failing to fully support the entire range of the creative, bright, and ambitious individuals who come to academic institutions with intense interest in science and technology. This conference focused on a key segment of the pool of talented people who often do not find sufficient support in academia: women of color.2
Given that success in academia is predicated on many factors and is not solely a function of talent, “Seeking Solutions: Maximizing American Talent by Advancing Women of Color” aimed to elucidate those other factors and to highlight ways that institutions and the individuals working in them can take action to create institutional cultures hospitable to people of every gender, race, and ethnicity. Participants at the conference focused specifically on women of color—people who experience both gender and racial biases—and identified the points in educational and career pathways at which talent and creativity are lost as women of color leave academia for positions in industry and elsewhere, or leave STEM disciplines for other fields. Conference participants discussed the self-efficacy of women of color and promising and/or proven initiatives that academic institutions may wish to adopt in order to provide an environment in which all ambitious and talented STEM faculty are welcome and thrive.3
Academia was long populated by people who were—through a variety of mechanisms and choices—free from time- and resource-consuming responsibilities outside of the academy. In
1 According to data released by U.S. Census Bureau in 2008, the minority population – everyone except for non-Hispanic, single-race whites – is projected to be 54 percent of the nation’s population by 2050. See more at www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/population/cb08-123.html
2 Women of color include Asian, Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native women. We acknowledge that not everywhere in the summary are the same categories used. (www.nsf.gov/od/iia/activities/ceose/mini-symp-pres/Women_of_color_stem_Oct2009/Oct27/JoanBurrelliv2.pdf)
3 Given that the conference was organized by the Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine, the discussion embraced a broad swath of disciplines that have different levels and types of issues with regard to their support for American talent across the board—including women of color. While the committee was well aware of the limitations implicit in including such a diversity of disciplines, it considered it necessary to discuss the issues both in the aggregate as well as specific to different disciplines.
the last few decades, academia has gone from being dominated by white men to being increasingly populated by people—mainly but not exclusively women—who maintain broader responsibilities—to children, extended family, and the wider community. Yet support systems in academia (both explicit and implicit) have been slow to broaden and embrace the growing diversity among its graduate students, post docs, and faculty. The consequences of support that is spotty at best are severe, particularly in the face of the U.S. shortage of STEM professionals. The academy, if it is to attract and retain the brightest and most innovative researchers and teachers, must accommodate scholars whose values and lives embrace a set of needs not only inside, but outside of the academy as well.
Participants in this conference brought recommendations and examples of successful practices that strategically minded institutions are employing to capture, nurture, and maximize American talent in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in academia. Some examples of strategies and some research discussed pertained to women in general, due to an absence of strategies or research on women of color specifically; however, the experiences of women of color were addressed directly whenever possible. Forward-thinking programs in some universities have found success and are moving university programs and “climates” toward ones that support talented faculty who are women of color. Many climate or cultural shifts are conceptually simple and inexpensive to implement. The questions raised and needs identified at this conference show the way toward more hospitable academic environments in which every talented, driven, and creative American in STEM disciplines thrives, finds community and collaborations, and makes his or her maximum contribution to this nation’s scientific and technological strength.
Recommendations and insights offered by conference participants clustered in two areas. The first had to do with the need to deliberately expand access for women of color to many modes of support that have tended to accrue virtually automatically to the more “traditional” students and scholars in the history of institutions of higher education—white men and, to a lesser degree, white women and men of color. The second area related to unconscious gender and racial bias. Women of color (and, to differing degrees, women overall) are often on the receiving end of “cognitively automatic” assumptions about their abilities and ambition. But studies have shown and specific institutions can attest to the fact that it is quite possible to diminish systematic bias through well-designed, simple awareness-raising activities and programs (see Chapter 3, Multiple Marginality: Gender, Race, and Equity in Science Education and Research). Pertinent to both areas is the need for better metrics (and mechanisms for obtaining data) for understanding the representation of women of color in STEM fields in academia, their routes through the educational and professional stages of their careers, and the climates and cultures of institutions of higher education in terms of diversity inclusion throughout the United States.
Participants suggested valuable resources and offered examples of programs and activities that are known to help reduce unconscious bias and lead to institutional climates that more evenly support faculty and students of all genders, races, and ethnicities, as well as other important divides. As one participant remarked, the need, broadly conceived, is for an end to differentism and a recognition of how an embrace of differences brings strength to academia.
STATEMENT OF TASK AND CONFERENCE OBJECTIVES
The National Academies’ ad hoc Committee on Advancing Institutional Transformation for Minority Women in Academia convened a two-day public conference to review the existing research on education and academic career patterns for women of color in science, engineering, and medicine. The conference focused on model practices and programs that recruit, retain, and advance women of color with a recognition that not all programs may work effectively for different ethnic and racial groups. This topic is important as while the numbers of women pursuing higher education in science, engineering, and medicine has grown (including the number of women of color), there is still a relatively small number of women of color faculty in all institutions of higher education. The conference agenda (Appendix B) was based on (1) a systematic review of relevant research literatures to enhance understanding of the barriers and challenges to the full participation of all women of color in STEM disciplines and academic careers; (2) identification of reliable and credible data sources and data gaps in order to better understand the critical transitions where women of color are lost; and (3) identification of the key aspects of exemplary policies and programs that are effective in enhancing the participation of women of color in faculty ranks.
ORGANIZATION OF THE SUMMARY
The organization of this summary follows that of the conference’s plenary sessions. The conference provoked not one but a number of different conversations among the participants, conversations that tracked more and less closely to the conference’s primary goal. This summary focuses on the discussions clearly aligned with the conference’s goal of maximizing American talent. The report starts with presenting statistics on the career pathways of women of color faculty in academia (Chapter 1), followed by a panel discussion from four women of color faculty who help articulate a subset of core issues and challenges for women of color in STEM disciplines (Chapter 2). It then summarizes the multiple marginality that women of color often experience in STEM research and education in Chapter 3. To seek solutions together with various stakeholders, the report includes a discussion on the roles of professional societies and federal agencies in Chapter 4 and 5, respectively. It proceeds with highlighting exemplary strategies and programs from minority serving institutions as well as non-minority serving institutions in Chapter 6. The public discussion following each plenary session generated a rich variety of exemplary practices and successful strategies, as did the breakout sessions. Where recommendations and suggested strategies were closely related to a plenary session, they have been summarized with that session. The remaining strategies and exemplary practices pertinent to the conference goals are grouped thematically in Chapter 7.
Two research papers were commissioned for the conference and are included in Appendix A. As part of the conference planning process, written testimonials were solicited from a wide range of professional societies and federal agencies, which were asked to comment on their own efforts to maximize American talent by supporting talented women of color in the relevant fields and to describe broader needs that they see for supporting outstanding women of color in STEM fields overall. The testimonials are included in Appendix E, and they are preceded by tables indicating the topics addressed by each.