Washington Update

NASEM Symposium Addresses Challenges to Retaining Women in STEM

By: Yvette Seger
Wednesday, March 27, 2019

On March 11, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) Committee on Women and Science, Engineering, and Medicine hosted a symposium highlighting evidence-based interventions for addressing the underrepresentation of women in STEM.

As part of the information gathering for the study, “Addressing the Underrepresentation of Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine,” the symposium featured panel discussions exploring approaches to addressing bias; implementing family-friendly policies; and recruiting, retaining, and advancing women scientists in academic research environments.

Donna Shalala, PhD, former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) who now represents Florida’s 27th District in the House, provided the keynote address. Referring to her experiences as HHS Secretary, university president, and chair of the NASEM committee that produced the seminal 2007 report, “Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering,” Congresswoman Shalala noted that recommendations will have the most impact if they offer sustainable and flexible strategies and provide clear directives to stakeholders.

She also said the timing of a report’s release can affect overall impact. Shalala noted that national events — namely the #MeToo movement and federal agency initiatives to address harassment in research environments — provide additional momentum for this study to foster a shift in academic culture.

Several common themes arose in the panel discussion. First, a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion must be a common organizational mission or goal that all partners work toward. Second, interventions to address the underrepresentation of women and minorities in scientific disciplines must be applied repeatedly and at multiple levels to foster culture change.  Finally, advisory bodies must provide clear directives regarding the actions stakeholders must take to ensure change occurs.

Video recordings of symposium proceedings and panelists’ presentations can be accessed on the National Academies’ website. Release of the final report and study recommendations is slated for November 2019.