The positive representation of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) influences the number of women who are recruited into STEM in Kuwait and the United States. The workshop’s second session explored evidence of effective programs, practices, and models in Kuwait and other Arab countries, as well as in the United States, to attract and retain women in science, engineering, and medicine. Chaired by Hayfaa Almudhaf (Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research) and Sonya Smith (Howard University), the discussion tackled such issues as identification of the barriers that prevent women from rising to the higher levels of the field; gender bias in recruitment/selection and in decision making; the work environment in which women work in male-dominated industries; and models of success to build the academic prowess, self-confidence, and leadership skills for women in STEM. While some successful strategies to improve opportunities for women were provided, the session did not include a discussion solely on strategies. The latter will be addressed at the second workshop.
In the first part of the session, presentations were made by Lama Moussawi (American University of Beirut), Amani S. Bu-Qammaz (Kuwait University), and Ikhlas Abdalla (Kuwait University). They were followed by Janet Malley (University of Michigan), Alice Hogan (consultant, formerly with the National Science Foundation), Yasmine Kanaan (Howard University), and Dara Norman (National Optical Astronomy Observatory).
The day concluded with a keynote address by Huda Akil, University of Michigan professor and recipient of the Kuwait Prize.
Lama Moussawi, associate professor at the American University of Beirut (AUB) in Lebanon, noted how the large worldwide gender gap in women’s economic participation and empowerment affects the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Globally, gross domestic product would increase by $55.3 trillion by 2025 if the economic gender gap decreased by 25 percent. Women generate just 18 percent of gross domestic product in the MENA region, compared with 40 percent in other parts of the world. Women are mostly represented in lower-productivity sectors such as agriculture.
As discussed throughout the workshop, women in the Arab Middle East are equipped with knowledge, skills, and abilities, including in STEM, yet have trouble securing employment and advancing in their fields.
In the United States and other parts of the world, women are faced with a “leaking pipeline,” in which they enter STEM fields but face challenges to retention and advancement. In contrast, Moussawi said, Kuwait and several other Arab countries are characterized by a “bursting pipeline.” In other words, many women receive a STEM education but face barriers and disadvantages that preclude access to formal employment and legitimate roles in the formal economy. The situation is exacerbated by a large youth population, and thus high youth employment. Female youth are the most disadvantaged.
Moussawi highlighted two initiatives at AUB to move toward more gender-inclusive organizations: Women in Data Science (WiDS) and the Center for Inclusive Business and Leadership for Women, or CIBL.W.
Data Science as an Avenue for Women
Data science is a growing field, and data scientists are in high demand. Yet, women’s involvement in computer science and engineering, two key paths to data science, has declined. To encourage more women to enter the field, WiDS began at Stanford University and now has more than 150 locations worldwide, including at AUB as a regional hub. “WiDS@AUB” creates a platform for data scientists in the Arab Middle East, promotes higher representation of women in data science, exposes the latest data science
research and practices, allows for the exchange of ideas, supports mentorship and collaboration, and connects regional researchers and practitioners to global data science networks. AUB has convened an annual conference, technical talks, roundtable sessions, and outreach. Participation in the conference has grown each year, so that it is now one of the largest conferences at AUB and the largest hub for data science in the region. “At WiDS AUB, we are presented with an opportunity for change, and we make sure that we create an inclusive culture that supports women,” Moussawi said.
Center for Inclusive Business and Leadership for Women
The second initiative that Moussawi discussed is the CIBL.W. It seeks to lead change in developing female talent and achieving gender-inclusive businesses across the region by preparing them to hire more women. The center focuses on behavioral, perceptual, and systemic changes through capacity building, change mobilization, and organizational policies and systems. It works with business partners, policy makers, gender and other ministries, think tanks, civil society, media, and the donor community.
Data collection is important in order to make changes under the assumption, Moussawi said, that “if you can’t measure it, you can’t change it.” A current project, funded by the U.S. Department of State Middle East Partnership Initiative, is to develop the first local data-driven index, called the KIP Index, “capturing nuances and heterogeneity of the situation of women in Arab MENA economies and translating multi-lingual knowledge into a measurable set of dimensions.”1 The vision is to use data for regional impact, such as to equip managers to make decisions related to women in STEM professions and to influence policies. Preliminary results are being compiled. A second grant, to start soon, will strengthen women’s contributions to the economy in the MENA region.
Amani Bu-Qammaz, assistant professor in civil engineering at Kuwait University, discussed the group Kuwait’s Engineer Girls (KEG). The company Limak Inşaat Kuwait reached out to Kuwait University to establish the
1 For more information, see https://www.aub.edu.lb/osb/research/CIBLW/Pages/KIPIndex.aspx.
program, adapted from a similar program in Turkey. The training aims to empower young female engineers to thrive in the private sector in Kuwait and to contribute to the country’s 2035 vision. Female senior students in Kuwait University’s College of Engineering and Petroleum are targeted. The “first generation” was launched in 2017, and two generations, or groups of 30 students each, have followed.
Participants gain such skills and characteristics as time management, self-esteem, communications, and problem solving. They participate in training courses, seminars and workshops, field trips and other site visits, and interactive learning sessions. Participation requires an application process and commitment, with only 30 spaces available per cohort. They are involved in 200 hours of training during the fall semester of the academic year. A critical follow-up is the creation of a strong community.
An outcome assessment of the first two generations of KEG participants shows improved self-esteem, leadership development, and critical thinking. Overcoming cultural barriers was less significant, but she pointed to the relatively short duration of the training as a reason why. As follow-up, the young women received three well-recognized certifications and traveled as a group to Istanbul. “We look forward to future generations and to expand the program to other companies,” Bu-Qammaz concluded. KEG can also foster connections among the women as they continue their careers.
Ikhlas Abdalla, professor of management at Kuwait University, presented on research conducted with collaborator Asmaa Al-Kandari. Referring to the concept of a bursting pipeline rather than a leaking pipeline to characterize women’s involvement in STEM professions in Kuwait, she noted the literature identifies such drivers as sociopolitical forces, countrywide human resource management practices, forces within organizations, and employees’ own actions and personalities (see Figure 3-1).
The research sample consisted of 95 STEM women, 92 STEM men, and 140 non-STEM women working in medium and large Kuwaiti organizations. Ages ranged from 24 to 49. Abdalla focused her presentation on the items in the survey instrument related to perceived macro sociopolitical barriers and human resource management.
The researchers found agreement by women and men that the most important sociopolitical barrier is lack of legislative support. There was also
gender agreement about low societal appreciation of women’s economic contributions. The least important barrier identified by both genders was the adequacy of child care and domestic help.
Female respondents, more than males, faulted the inadequacy of female activism and weak women’s organizations. Women more than men also noted the lack of coordination among agencies on issues of women’s empowerment.
The survey revealed a gender gap in human resource management issues. The most important barrier—more serious than gender discrimination—was identified as wasta (nepotism), in which wasta and social connections are more important to gaining a position than competence and gender discrimination. Wasta can cancel the adverse effects of gender bias, respondents said, but helps men more than women. The use of double standards was also
seen as a barrier and a form of gender discrimination. Stereotyping, biased opportunities, and doubting women’s aspirations were also factors.
Looking at gaps between STEM and non-STEM women, both groups of women held similar views related to wasta, double standards, stereotyping, a lack of career aspiration, and proactivity. STEM women stressed lack of support and opportunities more than non-STEM women.
“What the data is telling us,” Abdalla said, “is that there is opportunity to apply more pressure on legislatures, engage women more actively, and start conversations with men and women to correct the misconception that women lack career aspirations.” She urged women to publicly express their aspirations and engage in career self-management. Since the Arab Spring of 2011, she said, women have been rebelling not only against dictators but also against a conservative mindset that fears women as agents of change.
Regarding laws to change (raised as an issue in the study mentioned above), Abdalla said the Kuwait Constitution supports equality and the government is pro-women, but laws are not always enforced. “There is also pressure from religious conservative centers,” she added. “A conspiracy of silence exists when laws are broken.” In some cases, practices changed when women brought issues to court, such as the previous quota that limited how many women could enter medicine and other STEM fields at Kuwait University.
“The bursting pipeline means that women come into STEM fields with plans but then must give them up,” said one participant. She asked about any interventions to change perceptions at a younger age about future capabilities for males and females. Abdalla did not know of any specific studies, but pointed to recent government data that show that in times of economic difficulty, men and women do not show a preference to educating their sons over their daughters. However, in times of difficult economic conditions, they stated a preference to giving a job to a man over a woman. That is why it is important for girls to have supportive fathers and brothers, she and other presenters stressed. “A recurring theme is that culture is pervasive, and involvement of men is important as family members, in leadership positions, or as mentors,” observed a participant.
Another participant noted the importance of instilling self-esteem in young women and asked about tools to measure this in the KEG Program. Self-esteem is not taught as a separate course but as an integral aspect of the
entire program, Bu-Qammaz explained. She remains in contact with most of the previous participants, and several have told her about changes that have occurred in other aspects of their lives.
In answer to a question about why women continue to enter STEM in Kuwait with limited employment possibilities, Bu-Qammaz clarified that women do find entry-level jobs but have limited promotion opportunities and quality of work. For careers that require field work, women are constrained in how they can work with laborers and others. Some may work in something STEM-related but not the specific field in which they majored; for example, one participant knew of several engineers working as health instructors.
EFFORTS TO IDENTIFY AND IMPLEMENT DATA-DRIVEN POLICIES AND PRACTICES THAT INCREASE DIVERSITY AND RETENTION
As the first of four presenters focusing on U.S. issues, Janet Malley, director of research and evaluation for the University of Michigan ADVANCE Program, discussed policies and practices to increase faculty diversity at the University of Michigan through the ADVANCE Program. As also detailed more fully in the next presentation, it began with 5-year funding by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and a focus on information technology in 2002. In 2007, ADVANCE was internalized within the university with the same level of funding and a broader mission to work toward all forms of diversity and in all fields. It reports to the provost, with oversight by a steering committee chaired by the university president, provost, and dean of the medical school.
The goal is institutional change at all levels—individual, department, college, and university. Through data-driven policies and practices, the program aims to increase the diversity and excellence of faculty recruited, improve the climate for a retention of a diverse faculty, and support leadership development and success. The strategy is to change the culture, not “fix the women.” Malley said the first task was to understand the pipeline. The program held a 4-day workshop for postdocs and advanced Ph.D. students designed to encourage those with a commitment to diversity to consider an academic career.
Departmental practices were addressed through the Strategies and Tactics for Recruiting to Improve Diversity and Excellence (STRIDE) Program. Distinguished senior faculty were involved to serve as credible
sources. Expertise about search practices was developed and offered in campuswide workshops for faculty and administrators. Workshops offered conceptual tools, empirical evidence, and practical solutions. The percentage of STEM women faculty before STRIDE was 13 percent; it increased to 31 percent (see Figure 3-2).
Two studies looked at the hiring process. The first aimed to understand the extent to which search committees used the strategies and practices suggested by STRIDE. The second was related specifically to the interviewing process to learn what departments could do differently. Five recommendations resulted, namely:
- Convey the specific value of the candidate to the department.
- Make offers on fast and clear timelines and as generous as those at other institutions.
- Include opportunities to meet with prepared students and other women faculty and/or faculty of color.
- Take partners’ employment needs seriously and treat all partners with respect.
- Be aware that it is illegal and counterproductive to ask candidates questions about their personal lives.
The next task was to change the culture related to retention. A network for women faculty supported positive collective identity, surfaced issues, and created a peer mentor system. “Most faculty were isolated in their units, and this created a community,” Malley said. “Friendships and scholarly collaborations have developed as a result.”
Another early effort was to provide support and guidance to new junior faculty, although Malley commented they were warned not to use the term “mentoring” because senior professors considered it applicable to graduate students and not faculty. They set up “launch or advising committees” that consist of a senior faculty member within the department with similar research interests, the department chair, a senior faculty member outside the department but in a field with related research interests, an ADVANCE faculty member, and the new junior faculty member.
Campuswide assessments of climate are conducted. A negative climate is associated with faculty intentions to leave an institution, Malley explained. A baseline assessment took place in 2001 and every 5 to 6 years since to look at such factors as institutional climate, departmental climate, and career satisfaction. In all data collection, white males report the most positive climate. The Respect in Striving for Excellence, or RISE, initiative has adopted STRIDE’s model of faculty/staff collaboration and coeducation to develop resources to promote respectful and inclusive faculty work environments and address the issues surfaced by unit climate assessments.
Significant policy changes include annual monitoring of data by leaders, recruitment-related polices, increased family-friendly policies, and a more flexible tenure clock. Overall, the lesson learned is that change is slow and the efforts must be maintained over a long period, especially in a large institution. Organizational culture is a product of many different interactions and processes. Leadership must occur at all levels, including the top of the institution, departmental level, and among individual faculty.
Alice Hogan, now an independent consultant, was the founding project officer for the NSF ADVANCE Program, of which the University of Michigan was in a cooperative agreement (see previous presentation). ADVANCE began in 2001 in recognition that many years of increasing numbers of women Ph.D.’s in STEM fields saw no corresponding rise in the number of women full professors. The focus was on the role institutions of higher education play in the career success of women faculty in science and
technology. Funding developed data-informed interventions. ADVANCE sought to develop systemic approaches to increase the participation and advancement of women in academic STEM careers. Similar programs have been supported through the European Commission.
NSF legislation requires attention to “who does science.” This legislative mandate is helpful to give NSF the ability to undertake a program like this. Cooperative agreements with universities were based on mutually agreed-upon goals and commitments.
Data showed that marginalization of women faculty was accompanied by differences in salary and other benefits, and the pattern repeated itself in successive generations of women faculty. No one “black box” of knowledge will work, Hogan said, since each institution considers itself different. Having the data helps to connect knowledge and practice, build awareness of and address gendered aspects of institutional life, and practice and support learning and action. Lessons from structural change projects include that change is necessary, but not sufficient, to address structural exclusion. Status within organizations, clear engagement of the leadership, definition of short- and longer-term goals, and engagement of men are also important. Transformational agents are needed, although it is challenging work. The numbers for women in leadership positions (e.g., department head, dean) may change faster than women at the full professor level, she suggested. Establishing credibility is challenging and requires different approaches at each institution. Positive social outcomes can take years to take root.
ADVANCE provided toolkits, an information portal, and tutorials, among other resources. Related programs in the United States and Europe provided for mutual learning and cross-pollination, and papers on gender bias, unconscious assumptions, and implicit bias were published as a result of the project, as was the book An Inclusive Academy by Abigail J. Stewart and Virginia Valian.
Yasmine Kanaan, associate professor at the Howard University College of Medicine, drew on her own experience living in a refugee camp in Lebanon, attending a girls’ middle school, and being the only girl in her high school class to discuss encouraging young women to pursue careers in science. She noted the important role of a supportive father in her own career. She is now an associate professor at Howard University, where about 57 percent of the medical school is women, and most of them are African American.
Howard University has a long history of supporting women in the sciences but has also reached the current level of high female involvement through a number of efforts. It is important to start early to interest young women in science, Kanaan stressed. For example, Howard has a middle school in science and mathematics that helps create a pipeline of students. Outreach to other programs can also create opportunities for mentorships, including for young women from financially stressed situations who could later be eligible for scholarships. Other programs connected with Howard include the Howard University Science, Engineering, and Mathematics Program to increase the numbers of underrepresented minorities who receive baccalaureate and graduate degrees in STEM disciplines, the Howard Career Opportunities Program, the Bison STEM Scholars Program to attract and prepare high-achieving high school students to ultimately pursue a Ph.D. or a combined M.D./Ph.D., and the Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Program. The Semiconductor Research Corporation also provides undergraduates with valuable research experience and mentoring.
Overall, Howard University has found success in contacting organizations that attract young women and providing opportunities for the participants to spend time with a mentor in science. The mentoring period varies depending on the age of the student and area of interest. Financial support, especially for college, is important.
Dara Norman, full scientist and deputy associate director of the Community Science and Data Center at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, discussed efforts to increase the number of women and underrepresented minorities in astronomy. The numbers in physics and astronomy are small compared with other STEM fields, but are growing. In 2017, 33 percent of astronomy bachelor’s degrees and 40 percent of astronomy doctorates went to women. Much of the growth can be traced to the grassroots efforts of those interested in changing the field, she stated. As the number of white women in the field has grown, representation is still poor for minorities, especially for women of color. To be inclusive requires removal of barriers to access, creation of inclusive climates, establishment of a community of inclusive practice, and improved access to policy, power, and leadership.
A grassroots effort called Inclusive Astronomy 2 took place in Baltimore recently. The focus of it and other grassroots efforts is to provide advice to minority students to enter Ph.D. programs. Norman also noted support for bridge programs and an effort to urge schools to place less reliance on the Graduate Record Examination, or GRE, which cuts off a lot of women who would otherwise do well at the graduate level.
The Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy of the American Astronomical Society has taken on sexual harassment. These efforts have brought awareness and legitimacy to community concerns, and established organizations (professional societies, departments, and funding agencies) are moving to support the improvement of representation. For example, the committee found that women had more difficulty in winning time on telescopes at observatories for their research. To counter this, Hubble [Space Telescope] started to do dual anonymous reviews, and The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) also decided to conduct dual anonymous reviews once it saw how well the Hubble process worked. A goal for the future is to tie research funding to progress on inclusion, Norman added. For example, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Decadal Survey on Astronomy and Astrophysics 2020 will include recommendations related to diversity in policies, practices, and assessments.
Continuing a theme from earlier in the workshop, several people brought up the importance of making allies of males and how to do so. “You can’t get things done without involving the people in power, and those people tend to be men,” one participant said. “Convening women is important, but the bubble doesn’t get burst outside.” She asked how men became allies at the University of Michigan and at NSF. For ADVANCE, which needed to get clearance throughout NSF, each with its own needs, using the language of other programs was important, said Hogan. Malley said, “What was key for our program [at Michigan] was to go slowly and identify people who could be supportive. The advocacy of and participation of [male] respected scientists in STRIDE was key.” Having the support of high-level administrators was also important, she added. They focused their energy on colleges and departments where they had strong support, rather than on units where they did not.
A participant raised the point that mentoring is also needed at the associate professor level—that is, at midcareer and not just for junior faculty.
That stage is where a lot of uncertainty happens, she observed. The University of Michigan has a program called LIFT (Leadership and Integration at Faculty Transitions) for newly promoted associate and full professors to discuss their new responsibilities and privileges, and can also provide leadership coaching, Malley said. An unanticipated benefit of the launch committees for junior faculty, she said, is that other faculty become better mentors. Huda Akil, who has been involved in STRIDE as a professor at Michigan, said she welcomed STRIDE’s emphasis on implicit bias in committee and other group work. In addition to STRIDE’s style and data-based approach, she praised the awareness raising about dynamics in a room. Strong voices can be dismissive, for example, or certain people will always talk first and thus have an unequal influence on decisions.
Another idea raised was to determine how gender could be part of the accreditation process. One participant shared that the Medical Research Council in the United Kingdom now requires that applicants for funding meet one of the Athena SWAN (Scientific Women’s Academic Network) stages that seeks more gender equality.2
Another participant pondered how to change the culture in an institution without starting from scratch. “Look for solutions that are easy to implement,” one person suggested. For example, senior administration officials would respond to ranking and accreditation, she added. Norman noted that in astronomy, the younger generation has taken upon itself to make changes related to codes of conduct. “Having data is important as an entry point, but you also need the stories of lived experience,” suggested Hogan, noting there is no magic wand to progress.
Noted scientist and 2015 recipient of the Kuwait Prize Huda Akil drew on her own experiences and research as a neuroscientist to highlight how women, including Arab women, can become STEM leaders. She said the workshop itself was hopeful in seeing talented and smart women work together to explore how to do better for other women and for humanity in general.
Akil grew up in Damascus, Syria, and came to the United States for her education and career. Her father had a large influence in her life and
2 For more information, see https://www.ecu.ac.uk/equality-charters/athena-swan.
supported her goals, which launched her conviction that men have a role to play as allies in women’s success in STEM and other fields. He respected her curiosity and took her questions seriously, she recounted. When he did not know an answer to one of her questions, he sought help from others. Through him, she learned an inquiring mind is the result of the interplay between genes and the environment, and families play a big role. Another large influence was a biography of Marie Curie that Akil read while in the fourth grade. Curie’s life made her realize that a woman could move to a country like France and make discoveries in partnership with her husband.
In 1960, Akil’s father wrote a letter with a vision for the future for his daughters and all girls. He wrote that the “world of tomorrow” would open doors to women and become stronger and richer as a result. She realized later how unusual were his views for a man, especially from the Mideast but also in the United States. She also noted his emphasis on education not just to get a job but also to acquire knowledge and ideas. His support countered the negative voices around her that a female is lesser than a male.
Akil attended American University of Beirut. Her family tried to arrange a marriage for her, but she came to realize she was trying to fit into a mold that was not her. Finally, her father agreed with her dream to study in the United States. In 1968, she went to the University of Iowa, then did her Ph.D. work at the University of California, Los Angeles, and postdoctoral work at Stanford University. In both places, male mentors played a huge role in taking her seriously, providing opportunities, and setting high expectations for her work. “I was lucky with these people in my life,” she said. A more generalized lesson, she noted, is that “men are really important in enabling or squashing women in science.”
At the University of Michigan, Akil and her husband, Stanley Watson, study the neurobiology of stress, addiction, pain, and depression. They are strong believers in team science across institutions, which is an approach, she observed, that enables women. As science requires the use of bigger teams in wise and thoughtful ways, the teams can be more flexible and accommodating to lift and support both women and men.
Also relevant is their research into the biology and psychology of individual differences and how individuals cope with the environment and build resilience. Surviving in science, especially for women, requires resilience. A related topic that needs to be discussed to prevent attrition relates to risk-taking. As discussed at various points during the workshop, many women take less risky career paths. When does this happen, and how much is genetic and how much is environmental? she asked. In the lab, female rats
take as many risks as males. Resilience was important to her own career, and she urged its importance for others. Women are acculturated to take fewer risks; yet to be resilient means to take risks, be wrong and survive, and not just please everyone. She went into a new field of science not scared of being wrong. Teaching women to take risks would empower them.
A multiscale approach is necessary, with many interactions and elements that are interrelated. She also urged people to think about happiness and brain health.
Akil urged the following considerations for every girl and woman in her intellectual pursuits:
- Listen to her and tell her that her mind matters.
- Help her imagine possibilities.
- Teach her to take intellectual and personal risks.
- Mentor at every stage.
- Let her discover her strengths, build resilience, and understand power and use it for the greater good.
In the end, these values derive from humanism. Akil’s father’s feminism, before that term really existed, stemmed from his humanism, she said. She concluded by describing herself as a scientist who is optimistic that valuing everyone’s talents will move the world forward.
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