Congress, Here’s How to Make STEM Fields Better for Everyone

Four women stand in a U.S. Senate room around a podium.

The panelists from the congressional staff briefing, left to right: Erin Prangley, AAUW; Pamela McCauley, AWIS; Nora Boretti, GAO; Stacie Gregory, AAUW.

June 01, 2016


“Increasing diversity in our STEM fields will make us smarter.” AAUW Associate Director of Government Relations Erin Prangley opened with these words at the Women in STEM: Ways to Address Gender Inequity to Advance U.S. Global Competitiveness congressional staff briefing on May 13. Co-hosted by AAUW, the National Coalition of Women and Girls in Education, the Association for Women in Science, and the Society of Women Engineers, in coordination with the office of Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), the briefing set out to educate U.S. House and Senate staff about the importance of including women and people of color in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.

Erin Prangley speaks at a podium at the U.S. Senate next to a panel of three other women.

Erin Prangley, AAUW associate director of government relations, moderated the STEM panel.

Prangley served as the moderator for a panel featuring Nora Boretti from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), Pamela McCauley from the Association for Women in Science, and AAUW Postdoctoral Fellow Stacie Gregory.

The discussion focused on gender issues facing women in STEM, including an analysis of a recent GAO report that identified 13 potential actions federal agencies could take to address the underrepresentation of women in STEM research, a review of current scientific studies on obstacles to women’s participation in STEM education and careers, and an overview of pervasive sexual harassment in STEM fields. Boretti summarized the main findings of the GAO report and addressed ways to improve data collection and perform compliance reviews that are legally required under Title IX, the federal law that, among other things, bans discrimination in publicly funded research and education. Boretti’s comments were supplemented by the AAUW research reports Solving the Equation: The Variables for Women’s Success in Engineering and Computing and Barriers and Bias: The Status of Women in Leadership, copies of which were distributed at the sign-in table.

McCauley spoke about the gender gap in STEM fields, particularly among women of color. Today, “less than 1 percent of women in STEM [careers] are African American,” she said. Part of the reason women are discouraged from remaining in these fields, she added, is due to sexual harassment: “Currently, women who report sexual harassment are dismissed or even laughed at.”

Gregory, who has conducted interviews with graduate and doctorate students in STEM fields, discussed the reality that many of these students are less inclined to report sexual harassment due to the peer dynamics and interactions they have had with their advisers. In her experience, “Young female students feel the need to deemphasize their identities, such as cutting their hair short, to fit in with men.”

Following the three panelists’ remarks, Prangley opened the floor for a question-and-answer session. When asked whether there is any pending legislation to address gender inequities in STEM, Prangley noted that the STEM Opportunities Act, introduced by the briefing’s honorary co-host Sen. Hirono, would help federal science agencies and higher education institutions share best practices on inclusion. In addition, under this legislation, universities and nonprofits would be allowed to receive competitive grants and recognition for mentoring women and people of color in STEM.

AAUW Action Fund Capitol Hill Lobby Corps recently visited Senate offices to urge co-sponsorship of the bill, and more than 3,600 messages were sent to legislators through AAUW’s Action Network.

For more information on how you can support gender equity in STEM, visit AAUW’s Action Network.




Barriers and Bias: The Status of Women in Leadership

AAUW’s 2016 research report looks at causes and solutions for women’s underrepresentation in leadership roles in business, politics, and education.

Family standing in front of American Flag painting.

My Aha Moment: Was It Stereotype Threat?

Read AAUW Postdoctoral Fellow Stacie Gregory’s story of stereotypes and STEM.

Solving the Equation research report cover

Solving the Equation

Why are there still so few women in engineering and computing, and what can you do about it? Read the AAUW report.

By:   |   June 01, 2016


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