develop specific recommendations on how to make the fullest possible use of a large source of our nation’s talent: women in academic science and engineering. This report presents the consensus views and judgment of the committee members, who include five university presidents and chancellors, provosts and named professors, former top government officials, leading policy analysts, and outstanding scientists and engineers—nine of whom are members of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, or the Institute of Medicine, and many of whom have dedicated great thought and action to the advancement of women in science and engineering. The committee’s recommendations—if implemented and coordinated across educational, professional, and government sectors—will transform our institutions, improve the working environment for women and men, and profoundly enhance our nation’s talent pool.
Women have the ability and drive to succeed in science and engineering. Studies of brain structure and function, of hormonal modulation of performance, of human cognitive development, and of human evolution have not found any significant biological differences between men and women in performing science and mathematics that can account for the lower representation of women in academic faculty and scientific leadership positions in these fields. The drive and motivation of women scientists and engineers is demonstrated by those women who persist in academic careers despite barriers that disproportionately disadvantage them.
Women who are interested in science and engineering careers are lost at every educational transition. With each step up the academic ladder, from high school on through full professorships, the representation of women in science and engineering drops substantially. As they move from high school to college, more women than men who have expressed an interest in science or engineering decide to major in something else; in the transition to graduate school, more women than men with science and engineering degrees opt into other fields of study; from doctorate to first position, there are proportionately fewer women than men in the applicant pool for tenure-track positions; active recruiting can overcome this deficit.
The problem is not simply the pipeline. In several fields, the pipeline has reached gender parity. For over 30 years, women have made up over 30% of the doctorates in social sciences and behavioral sciences and over 20% in the life sciences. Yet, at the top research institutions, only 15.4% of the full professors in the social and behavioral sciences and 14.8% in the life sciences are women—and these are the only fields in science and engineering where the proportion of women reaches into the double digits.