Public Release:  Minority women still most underrepresented in science despite progress

American Chemical Society

SAN DIEGO, March 27, 2012 -- Thirty-five years after a landmark report documented minority women as the most underrepresented individuals in science, engineering, medicine and dentistry, dramatic improvements have occurred for women of color, but serious obstacles remain. That was the message from a report here at the 243rd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world's largest scientific society.

The presentation was part of an ACS symposium titled, "The Double Bind: Minority Women in Science and Update Thirty Five Years Later." It marked the anniversary of the first recorded meeting of minority women in a wide range of scientific fields to discuss "the double oppression of sex and race or ethnicity, plus the third oppression in the chosen career, science." The meeting, at Airlie House in Warrenton, Va., resulted in a report, The Double Bind: The Price of Being a Minority Woman in Science.

Yolanda S. George, who made one of the presentations at the ACS symposium, described how being both a woman and a minority can result in situations that thwart or stall a career in the so-called STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics for women of color -- African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans. Overall, the percentage of women of color holding doctorates in science and engineering remains small, according to a National Science Foundation (NSF) study, she said.

"Certainly, there has been progress," said George, Deputy Director of Education and Human Resources Programs at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She cited NSF data, for instance, indicating that the percentage of women of color with doctorates in STEM fields has risen hundreds of fold since the 1970s. But the increase has been from one small number to another -- from 0.12 percent to 2.4 percent. NSF data show that the number of Asian women with doctorates in science rose from 837 in 1973 to 25,610 in 2006; the number of Hispanic women with doctorates rose from 34 to 6,970; African-Americans from 249 to 7,760; and Native Americans from 3 to 440.

"We need more minority women in faculty positions, especially at research-oriented universities, where they can not only make contributions to research, but serve as mentors and role models for the next generation of double-binders," she said. "We also need a comprehensive update of the situation today for minority women in science. The data are very sparse and, over the years, has been reported in different ways by NSF, and we don't have a clear picture now."

George cited indications that parents have been discouraging minority women from seeking jobs in science and engineering, suggesting that careers in business, law and other fields are more lucrative financially, with payoffs requiring less time than science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

"There needs to be more parental education about careers in science and engineering," George said. "People don't realize that you can make a good living in science and engineering. Another problem is that many minority women are still in poor-quality schools and are not getting a quality math and science education."

She referred to a 2010 Bayer Corporation study reporting that 77 percent of those polled say "significant numbers of women and underrepresented minorities are missing from the U.S. STEM workforce today because they were not identified, encouraged or nurtured to pursue STEM studies early on."

George said that the Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering (CEOSE), in a 2009-2010 report to Congress, included recommendations from a 2009 CEOSE mini-symposium. That meeting highlighted the "invisibility" of women of color in STEM and specific challenges faced by girls and women of color in STEM education and employment.

What advice does George have for minority women interested in STEM majors or careers?

  • Focus on building science-writing skills and a strong record of involvement in research at the high-school and undergraduate levels.
  • Participate in regional, national and international science fairs and STEM competitions and make oral and poster presentations -- even during your years in middle school.
  • Remember that internship programs, especially internships in labs or other research settings are worth their weight in gold.
  • Graduate students, postdocs, faculty and professionals should focus on writing papers and grants and applying for patents early and often.

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Abstracts from the symposium, "The Double Bind: Minority Women in Science and Update Thirty Five Years Later," appear below.

Abstracts

Double bind for minority women in S&E: Then and now
Yolanda S. George, Deputy Director, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1200 New York Avenue NW, Washington, DC, 20005, United States , 202-326-6677, ygeorge@aaas.org

April 2011 marked the 35th anniversary of The Double Bind: The Price of Being a Minority Woman in Science publication. This seminal report documented the educational and career experiences of minority women in S&E. Since 1976, minority women have made strides in S&E degree attainment; however, this progress varies widely by degree level, discipline, and race/ethnicity. For example, the annual number of Black female S&E doctorates was 391 in 2000 and 594 in 2008; while the number for Hispanic female was 360 in 2000 and 639 in 2008. The annual number for Black female physical sciences doctorate was 26 in 2000 and 36 in 2008; while the annual number for Hispanic female was 24 in 2000 and 40 in 2008. While sparse, other data suggest that minority women have made progress in S&E employment, but obstacles and challenges may still exist in terms of access to elite positions and advancement.

Inside the double bind: A synthesis of empirical research on women of color in STEM
Lorelle Espinosa, Director, PhD, 1320 19th Street, NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC, 20036, United States , 202 861 8223, lorelleespinosa@gmail.com

I will present an overview of nearly 40 years of scholarship on the postsecondary educational and career experiences of women of color in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).This talk will be a synthesis of current and past research on the subject. This offers a complex portrait of the myriad factors that influence the retention, persistence, and achievement of women of color in STEM at the undergraduate, graduate, and career levels. The researchers argue that current underrepresentation of women of color in STEM fields represents an underutilization of our nation's human capital and raises concerns of equity in U.S. education and employment. The policy implications of the findings will be discussed and gaps in the literature will be highlighted as to where further research is needed.

Overview of The ScienceMakers Project
Julieanna Richardson, Executive Director, The HistoryMakers, Exeutive Director, 1900 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL, 60616, United States , 312-674-1900, jlr@thehistorymakers.com

In 2009, the National Science Foundation awarded a $2.3 million grant to The HistoryMakers, the nation's largest African American oral history archive. The grant, entitled ScienceMakers: African Americans and Scientific Innovation, seeks to expose the public to African American role models and their achievements in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. This will be accomplished through oral history interviews with 180 scientists, catalogued with EAD and EAC-CPF finding aids; youth and adult public programs featuring the scientists at ten U.S. science centers; the ScienceMakers Toolkit curriculum for K-12 science educators; a YouTube contest for students to envision themselves as ScienceMakers; and online dissemination through a digital video archive. The project will span a period of four years and is aided by support from the advisory board consisting of members from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Academy of Sciences, and several science centers and universities.

Swimming against the tide
Sandra L. Hanson, Phd, Catholic University, Sociology, 620 Michigan Ave., N.E., Washington, DC, 20064, United States , (202) 319-5955, hanson@cua.edu

"They looked at us like we were not supposed to be scientists," says one young African American girl describing one openly hostile reaction she encountered in the classroom. This study argues that many young minority girls are interested in science but the racism and sexism in the science classroom often discourage them. Experiences of African American girls in science education are examined using multiple methods of quantitative and qualitative research including a web survey and vignette techniques. The multicultural framework addresses the role of agency and resistance that encourages and sustains interest in science in African American families and communities.

Native Americans in science yesterday and today
Shanadeen C Begay, 590 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA, 02215-2521, United States , 617-353-7309, scbegay@bu.edu

There was one native American woman who could be considered to work in a chemical field since she was an environmental engineer who attended the Double Bind Conference. Her name is Georgia Pedro. We will discuss any information that we have about her.

This talk will also be about the current status of Native Americans in science, their access to science and those who are currently working in the field. The information will be drawn from the authors work as a Diversity Partner in the Native American Community

Women of the double bind
Jeannette E. Brown, Independent Scholar, 122 Brookside Lane, Hillsborough, NJ, 08844-4816, United States , 908-239-1515, jebrown5134@comcast.net

There were seven women who were chemists or chemical/environmental engineers who were among the thirty women participants in the Double Bind Conference. Of these seven women, five were African American, the other two were Native American and Puerto Rican. In this paper we will discuss the lives of the deceased women who participated in this conference and whose lives are also detailed in the authors' book," African American Women Chemist." The recorded voices of the living women who were also at the original Double Bind meeting may be included in this talk. The full story of Dr. Marie Daly, who was the first African American woman to receive a PhD in chemistry, will be detailed in a future symposium. You will find that these women were hiding in plain sight when you hear about the accomplishments of these women.

Women chemists of color: An update
Gloria Thomas, PhD, 1 Drexel Drive, New Orleans, LA, 70125, United States , 504-520-7380, gthomasphd@gmail.com

While much progress for women has been made over the last couple of decades, African American, Native American, Asian American and Hispanic American women are not entering and advancing in the sciences at the same rates as their Caucasian counterparts. To explore the issues, a Women Chemists of Color Summit (funded by NSF #1027608 was held during the Fall 2010 ACS meeting to broaden awareness of challenges for women of color found at this very specific intersection of gender and ethnicity, gather more data about women chemists of color, and provide a forum for building community among women of color. This talk will review some of the existing data, highlight insights learned during the Summit and feature progress made in this initiative since the Summit.

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