Slaughter, Johnson, and DeLauro Call On GAO to Study Gender Bias in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Fields

Jul 24, 2013

Yale Study Finds Opportunities in the Sciences Limited for Women, Lawmakers Say Bias Undermines American Competitiveness

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswomen Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office calling for a study of the government’s effectiveness in combating gender bias in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. The letter cited a recent study by Yale University researchers that demonstrated that female undergraduates are considered less qualified for employment in science fields than their male peers by both male and female science professors from universities across the United States. Researchers attribute this to gender bias delineating that scientific fields are for men, while women should focus on the humanities. This bias translates to the alarming statistic that despite holding more degrees in STEM fields, women still lag behind men in obtaining STEM jobs.

Federal lawmakers and President Obama have identified STEM education as a critical national priority in maintaining America’s competitive advantage. This year, President Obama committed $3.1 billion in his budget to improving STEM education nationwide.

In addition to maintaining America’s position as the world leader in technology and innovation, federal lawmakers have a significant stake in preventing bias, as “federal money supports about 60 percent of the research performed at universities, at a cost of $36.6 billion in 2011, in addition to more than $40 billion in intramural research and research at federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs).”

“While women have advanced in the traditionally male-dominated fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics to the point where they now earn more STEM degrees than men, gender bias continues to reinforce a glass ceiling in the STEM professions which we have to break to maintain our competitive advantage in the world,” said Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY), who holds a Bachelor's Degree in Microbiology and a Master’s in Public Health. “Women are just as qualified to hold these positions as men, and we need more professionals to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math, regardless of gender. We should not and cannot allow gender bias to handcuff this country’s future.”

“It is critical to our nation’s economic leadership and global competitiveness that we educate and train more scientists and engineers.  Research shows that women are disproportionately lost at every transition point in their STEM studies and careers.  As a nation, we simply cannot afford to continue losing this talent from the STEM pipeline,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX).  “I hope this report will give us a better understanding of what steps our agencies are taking to advance the participation of women in STEM fields, and what further steps are still needed.”  

“Science, technology, engineering and math knowledge helps lay the foundation for a solid education and promising career path,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). “Unfortunately, we have known for years that many young girls are dissuaded from pursuing their interests in these fields, which is underscored by a recent Yale study. That is unacceptable and I look forward to reading the GAO’s recommendations on how we can end it.”

“We applaud the efforts of Reps. Slaughter, Johnson, and DeLauro to shed light on one of the root causes of our domestic STEM workforce crisis,” said AAUW Executive Director/CEO Linda D. Hallman, CAE. “To be globally competitive, the United States needs more people to go into STEM. Women need to be the focus of these efforts as they represent 50 percent of the overall workforce but less than 25 percent of the STEM workforce. The federal government plays a vital role in removing occupational barriers to women in STEM fields, and this study will be critical to finding solutions that will broaden participation. AAUW’s research shows that even small improvements can make a big difference in retaining the best minds.”

“We understand why women are under-represented in STEM fields, but we lag in remedying the problem,” said Nancy Hopkins, an MIT professor who studies gender bias in STEM education. “This initiative would go a long way to stopping the loss of talented women in STEM fields in the United States. Representatives Slaughter, Johnson and DeLauro are to be applauded for this critically important proposal.”