THE BENEFITS OF DIVERSITY IN THE SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING WORK FORCE
Linda S. Wilson
Linda Wilson, chair of the National Research Council's Office of Scientific and Engineering Personnel and president of Radcliffe College, has made important contributions to the position of women not only in science and engineering but in scholarly activities in general. Before going to Radcliffe College, Wilson was Vice President for Research at the University of Michigan.
A graduate of Newcomb College, Tulane University, she earned a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry at the University of Wisconsin. She went on to teach and conduct research at the University of Maryland, then pursued a second career devoted to fostering and oversight of research and graduate education. She served in senior administrative posts at Washington University, the University of Illinois, and the University of Michigan. Dr. Wilson has long been active in the national science policy arena, where she has contributed to strengthening the relationships among universities, the government, and industry. Her publications span the fields of chemistry, science policy, and higher education .
In 1959, the President's Science Advisory Committee issued a major statement on Education for the Age of Science. That statement began with the premises of the American system of education. It spoke to the varieties of talents in our population and recognized the need for continuing adjustment to keep pace with the problems and opportunities that would face our country in the coming ages. Two of the several premises that were expressed in 1959 were that:
''No child shall be deprived of the fullest opportunity to develop his talents'' and
"No one shall be condemned to a lowly position or elevated to a high one by the mere circumstance of the wealth, power, and prestige of his ancestors."
The committee's statement explicitly addressed, albeit very briefly, the changing role of women in society—as a result of modern technology, which provided a release from domestic drudgery and, as a result of earlier marriage, which advanced the time at which women could make substantial commitments outside the home. The committee at that time concluded that "women constitute an enormous potential resource for research, scholarship, and teaching" and called for "conscious efforts to assist women to make the contributions of which they are capable."
As I read that now, through the lens of 1991, I note the presumption that married women should stay home, and I note the reference to those contributions "of which they are capable" and wonder exactly what the committee meant. Expectations are broader now. Since 1959, we have come a very long way in developing talent generally and in developing science and engineering talent specifically. We have also made strong progress in educating more of our population, especially women. Now, in 1991, it is nevertheless sobering to look back at the aspirations that were expressed at that time and to realize how much those ideals have been imperfectly executed. The task of tapping fully the potential of the talents of our population is far from complete. Indeed, in some ways we seem to be losing ground. Furthermore, for various reasons, the stakes are higher now and the urgency is much more acute.
Our progress has been seriously slowed by a number of factors but perhaps by none as inhibiting as the cultural beliefs and traditions that have circumscribed the expectations that we have for the roles and contributions of a substantial part of our population, namely women and minorities. Biases regarding gender, race, ethnicity, and class have interfered with our pursuit of our expressed ideals. Although we are a nation of immigrants, we have learned very imperfectly how to understand, how to value, and how to benefit from our differences.
Now, as we approach a new century and take a new look, we must renew our efforts to develop our human resources to their fun potential and to engage that rich array of talent in the pursuit of larger common purposes, to pursue a better life for all of the people in this nation and in the world. Recruitment and retention of talent in the sciences and engineering are an important part of the larger challenge of broad and full development of human potential. Our society has high requirements for talent and creativity
in these fields. Our efforts to find and develop them will have valuable spinoff for other fields as well.
I will focus my remarks on the more specific challenges with regard to women and minorities, and especially to those facing women. I would like to contribute the compelling arguments for assuring full participation of women and minorities in our society and particularly in science and engineering; the full meaning of the term "access;" a framework for discussing and evaluating interventions to enhance access and achievement; and the identification of some fundamental issues that will be important to the pursuit of our goals.
The Compelling Arguments
There are four compelling arguments for opening the doors, removing the barriers, and encouraging and enabling the full participation of women and minorities. These arguments are valid for participation in all aspects of our society, but perhaps are especially so in science and engineering.
First, there is the simple argument for equitable treatment of all of our citizens, an argument which should stand on its own and be totally sufficient, an argument that emerged as part of the civil rights and human rights movements of the mid-century and which had its roots in many of the movements that had taken place before. Some of the most critical legislation was based on this argument alone. Substantial progress has, in fact, been made in changing the rules that previously barred women and minorities from entry and participation—in education, in the workplace, and in social environments.
The second argument—the economic argument—has gained increasing attention as our nation has become increasingly dismayed by its waning leadership in the international economic arena. The nature of the economic base of this country presents a growing need for skilled workers, for knowledge workers, for intellectual talent, and for ingenuity. Since the new entrants to the work force by the year 2000 will be predominantly women and minorities, our economic security will depend on how well we have educated, trained, and incorporated these individuals into full participation.
In addition to these two very powerful arguments of equity and
economics, a persuasive third argument can be made. Women and minorities, as new entrants to the work force, represent an important source of renewal. New entrants bring questions, fresh ideas, new and different perspectives on old problems, new energies, and new skills. They are not blinded by the familiar. The experience they bring enlarges the repertoire of strategies that can be employed. They are therefore an important factor in making successful transitions and for accommodating change. Our country faces enormous transitions, for it is quite clear that business as usual is not the name of the game. The full participation of women and minorities contributes a diversity in the citizenry and in the work force, and that gives our society added resilience and adaptability—just what we need to accomplish and to guide rapid change. The strategy of using diversity to assure long-term vitality is not new, of course. It has worked very well in nature, in investments, in business development, in education, and in our culture.
Finally, a fourth argument can be made for women and minorities' full participation in society, especially in science and engineering fields: the "public will argument." Many of the challenges we now face will not yield just to knowledge and innovation. Progress on them will require a concerted public will—a broad and sustained commitment to make short-term sacrifices where necessary for long-term gain—as in the development of viable policies for energy, for education, for health care, and for the environment. In these areas especially, broad, decentralized activity is needed. These problems will not yield to tentative, intermittent effort. Nor will they be solved just by rules or proclamations issued by a remote elite. Without widespread and informed commitment to common purpose, solutions that involve disruption of expectations or impose economic or social discomfort will not be accepted. And even if they were to win initial acceptance, they would not be sustained. We need to develop, now more than ever, an informed, scientifically literate citizenry. We need to engage in serious attention on these issues in a substantive way, and we need to sustain our efforts for the long term. We cannot succeed on many critically important policy matters without the full participation of women and minorities, in both the development and the support of effective policy and action.
The Full Meaning of "Access"
Consider what is involved to gain women's full participation: full
access goes far beyond just opening the doors of educational institutions and the workplace. It means:
changing and enlarging the expectations of students, teachers, supervisors, leaders, and the public in general about the capabilities and contributions of women;
developing in women strong self-esteem and sense of self-competency—and discovering what experiences reinforce these attributes;
reexamining assumptions that research accomplished using only male subjects yields valid conclusions for both males and females;
recognizing and valuing the accomplishments of women so that both men and women have a better sense of their heritage and potential;
seeking and exploring new perspectives on the fields of knowledge as new entrants bring new questions and different experiences to bear on discovery;
identifying and understanding the barriers to women's progress in academic and professional careers so that these can be removed or overcome;
addressing the communication challenges women and men face together in the classroom, in the home, in the workplace, and in volunteer activities so that they can be more effective partners in their endeavors; and
acknowledging the underlying issues that threaten families, institutions, and communities so that creative and effective social policies can be developed and sustained.
Marilyn Heins, M.D., F.A.A.P., in her acceptance remarks when she was honored as a distinguished alumna of Radcliffe College, made an astute observation about national policies and full access for women. She pointed out that the workplaces in this country, unlike those of other industrial nations, are still governed by some policies, dating from the 1950s, which assumed that mothers stayed at home. Now, in the last decade of the century, two-thirds of mothers are in the work force. Dr. Heins asks, "Why have our policies not kept pace with the greatest societal change most of us will ever witness—the exponential and continuing rise of mothers employed outside the home?" The tension over this issue reflects opposing ideologies and paralysis with regard to child-care policies and facilities. "We are the only
industrialized nation in the world that pretends women are not in the work force." This paralysis, and the ideological tension that causes it, profoundly affect the nation's capacity to develop and utilize its human resources.
As we seek access for women in the fullest sense of the word, our effort and our accomplishments will enlarge opportunities for both men and women. They will enlarge opportunities for members of minority groups as well. We will learn more about teaching and learning; we will learn more about the interactions of individuals with institutions and social systems; and in the process, we will learn more about our institutions and systems themselves. With this knowledge we can make them better.
Frameworks for Discussing Interventions
Our pursuit of full access will involve the intervention strategies that you are here to describe and discuss today. There are several frameworks that one could use for guiding and organizing this discussion of interventions. The framework that has been chosen for the conference—the stages of education and the employment sectors—is especially useful for the intended broad audience of the results of your discussion. Within that framework, however, I suggest that it would be useful to categorize these interventions further, according to their principal focus or purpose. Are you addressing systemic change by your intervention, organizational change, or personal change?
Beyond these broad categories, interventions can be distinguished by the nature of the change involved. For example, if the intervention is focused at the organizational change level, does it address behavior or beliefs of employees or leaders, structure, or rules and working conditions? For an intervention at the personal level, will the focus be acquisition of skills or resources, change in relationships, enhancement of motivation, or improvement in sense of competence and well-being?
Still other questions might be considered regarding interventions:
What is the degree of complexity or multiplexity of the intervention? How probable is it that cause and effect relationships can be isolated for subsequent evaluation?
What is the duration of the intervention? Is it continuous, periodic, or intermittent—or a single effort?
What is the degree of generalizability or specificity of the intervention?
You will surely discover other useful categories as the result of the discussion of the conference. The search should be for the critical intervention strategies—those with the greatest leverage applied at the most critical junctures to effect lasting change. This is why categorization is important. We must design efficiency into this endeavor, for we do not have the luxury of a slow pace.
As you consider interventions, let me suggest another kind of framework, a framework for design of a specific intervention. First, there should be careful problem definition: focus on understanding what behavior or process needs modification, how that process works, and why it works the way it does. Next, one must fold in contextual changes and recognize that the planned interventions interface with other systems already in place, particularly the education system: consider subjective issues, identify and address the fears that will be raised by the proposed interventions, and consider some scenarios about how to handle the consequences and the interconnections. At that point, identify rather specifically what it is that you want to achieve. In fact, it is very important to revisit this particular question in a recurring way throughout one's planning, implementation, and evaluation. Yes, repeatedly concentrate attention on just what is it you are trying to achieve.
With those several considerations in mind, you should be ready to design the intervention and identify indicators of success. You need to be careful to distinguish qualitative and quantitative indicators, because not everything that is important is measurable. Not everything you design into your activity has to be measurable. There is the measurement and the monitoring of outcomes and the interpretation of those outcomes. You need to pay special attention to the feedback loops in this process. Finally, please, share the results: we must not continually reinvent every wheel.
Let me reiterate my encouragement to search very carefully for the important feedback loops in the interventions, to recognize and to come to grips with deeply-rooted beliefs and fears that will affect your success, to be
scrupulous in distinguishing myth from reality, and to pay a great deal of attention to the changing external context for we are addressing a moving target as the social frontier advances.
As we plan and discuss the interventions to enhance the recruitment and retention of women in science and engineering, we must bear in mind that much of the design of the current work structures and environments were put in place a long time ago by people different from those who will work in them in the future. The design features of these organizational arrangements were influenced by another context, by previous problems, and by the operating styles of the leaders of that time. Indeed, a lot of our organizational structures were really shaped by their founder and first leader. Those organizational structures were designed without the benefit of our subsequent organizational, psychological, educational, sociological, and political science research. But even if that research had been done at the time the organizations were being designed, the results of that research might not have been brought to bear. The bridges between research, policy, and action were and are fragile: our organizational design activities have been and still are very much of a "try and try again" matter. Furthermore, much of the existing structure was based on anachronistic assumptions, assumptions that there would be a single wage-earner per family and that the wage-earner would be supported by a community network that was strong, by a school system that met basic needs of knowledge for the workplace, and by a family in which most of the home work would be done by those who stayed at home.
In reality, knowledge and information needs have far outstripped what our school systems provide. Our communities are unravelling and dispersing. Our families are being redefined. Dual wage-earners are now needed to support many traditional and redefined family groups in all but the most economically advantaged elite.
Also bear in mind that the cultural bases for the pattern of roles men and women play run very, very deep. They are linked to basic conceptualizations of masculinity and femininity. For 20 years the leading definition of masculinity provided by subjects of the Yankelovich Monitor survey, a large nationwide poll that has tracked social attitudes, has been "being a good provider for his family" (Faludi, 1991). The socialization that males have experienced in growing up aims toward that responsibility. It is out of that goal and the set of accompanying expectations that
competitiveness, beliefs about the workplace, and beliefs about women's having limited roles arise. Interventions that are insensitive to these basic conceptual roots will encounter difficult problems and may fail. But interventions that are sensitive to them give us the opportunity to develop a new understanding of the values of the diversity among men and women and to gain the benefit that diversity can provide.
Some Fundamental Issues
Four fundamental issues will affect our progress in achieving the goals.
1 Do we intend for women (and minorities) to become full participants or just to remain as "guests"?
If we intend their full participation, then the enterprise must change to be hospitable operationally and psychologically for both women and men and for minorities and the majority. I am convinced that changes to achieve that goal of full participation, full membership rather than just guest status, will increase the ease of recruitment and retention in science and engineering for both men and women.
We need to shift from a singular strategy of "survival of the fittest" to a broader portfolio of strategies to develop human potential to its fullest. Benjamin Bloom's studies reveal that talent and capability are far more widespread in the population than our educational systems and policies assume (Pearson et al., 1989). Bloom identified a number of key factors for encouraging and developing that widespread talent. He noted the importance not only of identifying the talent, but also of nurturing it and of providing a sphere of action for it. If you think about women and minorities, you discover that what has been largely unavailable to them is a sphere in which they can feel that they have a rightful, acknowledged place.
A recent editorial in the Boston Globe by Phyllis Goldfarb, professor of law at Boston College, addressed the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings. She spoke to the issue of women's silence, using the example of Anita Hill's reticence to file a formal grievance at the time of the incidents that triggered the hearings. Prof. Goldfarb pointed out that women's silence, for which Anita Hill was criticized, is extremely understandable if one examines it in terms of power relationships. She said, "The powerful stand at the gatehouse of knowledge and language." That is a profound insight, relevant for our
exploration of the environment for recruiting talent to science and engineering. In these fields, male perceptions of the world, male perspectives of how people function, and males' own socialization toward intense competitiveness and power have been a major part of what has shaped an environment that is now not very hospitable to the newcomers we seek to engage.
We cannot overlook that factor, but we have to be very careful not to "throw the baby out with the bath water." We are quite unlikely to succeed in any of our endeavors if we totally ignore and reject competition. What we need to do is to move on to a much more sophisticated plane and have a portfolio or repertoire of strategies that includes competition, complementarity, cooperation, and collaboration—each selectively used at its most effective juncture.
The interventions that you are exploring and designing can provide the cognitive and social bridges so that the number of women and minorities participating can increase to a critical mass. Once that critical mass is achieved, the environment will begin to change as their contributions help to shape what we do and how we do it.
2 How can the cultural norms of the various science and engineering disciplines and professions be reconciled with our needs for recruiting and nurturing human potential?
Within our fields of science and engineering, and also in other fields of knowledge, there are quite different cultural norms for the way work should proceed, what people should do, and how they think and interact. The existence of these various cultures, or folkways, may be a response to social and psychological differences among people, but I doubt that the differences in distribution of women and men among the various fields has any basis in inherent differences between men and women.
I suggest that we should be challenged, as we design our interventions, to look carefully at the cultures of each field and to make more explicit what the folkways of the fields are. Once they are more apparent, we can examine them to see whether the folkways represent core values to be preserved or habits and traditions that could be adjusted to make the fields more open to women and minorities and, at the same time, more productive for all.
3 How will the values that are now reflected by employers of scientists and engineers resonate with the values of the men and women who will work in their organizations?
Each year, in a national survey (Astin et al., 1990; Dey et al., 1991), we ask students about their values. Men and women often differ in the order, or hierarchy, of their values. Men are often more focused on career goals and on earning power. Women tend to put as a higher priority doing good, doing something for improving life and the human condition.
These hierarchies of values need to be recognized and understood as to their roots and the way they coincide or fail to coincide with the values prevalent in industry, particularly the defense industry, and in academe. We must think this through carefully so that we can understand their implications for our international interdependencies—our interdependencies scientifically, technologically, economically, environmentally, and in health.
4 What role will the media play in enhancing recruitment and development of talent in science and engineering?
At present the representation of women and scientists by the media, in advertising and in entertainment, is working at cross purposes with what we need to achieve. In the media, advertisements often demean, marginalize, and trivialize women. Scientists and engineers are often ridiculed. They may be cast as monsters or as evil. These representations of women and minorities and of scientists and engineers simply do not help.
Television is a powerful tool. It is potentially a very valuable educative force, but it is not now a positive factor in supporting our national objectives in human resource development. Super-sophisticated technical prowess claims the minds and attention of the viewers, but the technical virtuosity far outstrips the substantive value. Such powerful distractions from and competition to education are dysfunctional in a society that must increasingly be broadly literate. One result of the power of television is a marginalization of school education in the minds of students. The effect goes well beyond science, engineering, and math and represents lost opportunities of enormous proportions. It reflects a reordering of the values of our society, a reordering which I must believe is unintended and correctable. It can only be corrected, however, if we can effectively exert our public will. This is why
it is so important for us to recognize the roles that women and men, majority and minority, play in developing the public will. We need the full participation of all.
I would like to encourage you, and the Committee as it pursues its work, to consider the very special value of longitudinal studies for assessing and for understanding the change in human performance. To show you why I think that it is so important, I will refer to a fascinating report by Clifford Adelman on the recent study of the educational careers and labor market experience of men and women in the high school class of 1972 from the time they graduated from high school until they were 32 years old (Adelman, 1991). His report provides some important good news amidst the usual worries about the preparedness of our nation for effective participation in the global economy. He points out that:
If we play it right, if we allow our oft-stated beliefs in rewards for educational achievement to govern, if economic justice can determine economic strategy, then the women of the United States will make the difference. We will not be eclipsed and our standard of living will not fall if we play it right and play it just, for our special asset as we enter the next century is that U.S. women of all races are the best educated and best trained in the world and will constitute 64 percent of the new entrants to the work force over the next 10 years. They comprise over half the enrollees and degree recipients at all levels of education except the doctorate and first professional levels and even there the gap should close by the end of the decade.
Furthermore, this longitudinal study of a very large sample of individuals over time revealed that the women out-performed the men on many different dimensions:
academic performance in high school,
receipt of awards for scholarships for postsecondary education,
the rate of completion of college degrees (both bachelor's degrees and associate's degrees),
academic performance in college in terms of grade-point average, averaged over all fields and also in statistics and calculus,
change of educational aspirations by the end of college toward the pursuit of graduate degrees,
rate of use of continuing education after the age of 30,
the development of positive attitudes toward education,
the belief that they truly benefitted from schooling,
finding their education relevant to their work and working a great deal with ideas (the engine for an information economy), and
positive attitude towards working conditions, relations on the job, and development of new skills.
Men and women performed about equally in terms of their SAT scores when they had studied two years' worth of math and science, and they performed about equally in their rate of continuation of education after high school. Women scored lower than men in three areas:
At the high school level, their educational aspirations and plans were lower than those of men, reflecting their socialization.
Women experienced more genuine unemployment than men.
Women were paid less than men, on the average.
In only 7 out of 33 occupations did women achieve pay equity with men, but what was especially noteworthy was that women who had earned 8 credits of college-level math did achieve pay equity with men.
These results emphasize for me the value of the longitudinal studies. We would not know about those very valuable assets that women provide in their performance and their attitudes had the same people not been followed over a long span of years. A longitudinal study provides a very much more detailed and accurate picture than do snapshot surveys from time to time. That is one of the reasons that the Office of Scientific and Engineering Personnel persists in several of the longitudinal studies that it conducts.
Finally, let me exhort you to recognize the importance of systematic, well-documented effort, the necessity for structural and systemic change, and the very great importance of encouraging and sharing with each other.
Adelman, Clifford. 1991. Women at Thirty Something. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
Astin, Alexander W., William S. Korn, and Ellyne R. Berz. 1990. The American Freshman: National Norms for Fall 1990. Los Angeles: Cooperative Institutional Research Program, University of California; and American Council on Education.
Dey, Eric, Alexander W. Astin, and William S. Korn. 1991. The American Freshman: Twenty-Five Year Trends . Los Angeles: Cooperative Institutional Research Program, University of California; and American Council on Education.
Faludi, Susan. 1991. Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., p. 65.
Pearson, Carol S., Donna L. Shavlik, and Judith G. Touchton. 1989. Educating the Majority. Women Challenge Tradition in Higher Education . Washington, DC: American Council on Education.