RECRUITING AND RETAINING WOMEN IN STEM FIELDS

Representative Connie Morella (R-Md.)

INTRODUCTION

Nancy J. Vickers
President, Bryn Mawr College

We welcome with great pleasure Congresswoman Connie Morella, who joins us today to provide a national policy perspective on issues of gender equity in science, education, and the science and technology workforce. An eight-term representative of Maryland’s 8th District, Congresswoman Morella has focused her legislative efforts on scientific research and development, education, equity for women, the environment and the federal workforce.

Connie Morella is a long-term member of the House Science Committee, where she has made technology transfer a priority and has worked to create collaborative partnerships between federal laboratories, industry and universities. She has been a leader in forming national recommendations to address the under-representation of women, minorities and persons with disabilities in the science and technology workforce. This latter work includes sponsorship of the legislation that established the Congressional Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Education and Technology (CAWMSET).

Congresswoman Morella is a former co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Women’s Issues and is recognized nationally for her work on children’s issues, domestic violence and women’s health, educational, and economic-equity issues. She has provided leadership on natural resources and sustain-able development for which she has earned recognition from many environmental groups. Presently, she is also chair of the Government Reform Subcommittee on the District of Columbia and continues her long service on the Civil Service Subcommittee. On the international stage she has represented the United States at the U. N. Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, and co-chaired the congressional delegation to the U. N. Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

It is a pleasure and privilege to welcome Congresswoman Connie Morella to Bryn Mawr and this symposium.

CLOSING ADDRESS
Connie Morella

I commend you on the program that you had yesterday and what continued today. I know that you have heard from wonderful panelists, many whose lives have also intersected with mine in the fields of science, engineering, and technology in terms of promoting women. Catherine Didion, for example, has worked side by side with me in her role as executive director of the Association of Women in Science. Dr. Jane Butler Kahle from NSF; Dr. Maria Maccecchini, adding a private sector perspective as CEO of Annovis, Inc; Dr. Anne Thompson, NASA, again bringing in the public sector; Dr. Priscilla Grew, a professor at the University of Nebraska, bringing in the academy: the make-up of your opening panel says to me what this is all about, and that is partner-ships. For us to succeed in this endeavor and in so many others, it is necessary to have a partnership of the public sector, the private sector, and academia. And you have certainly done all of that here.

The terrorist attacks of September 11 that horrified all of us, swept away our innocence and replaced it with grief, anxiety and anger, also left us with a firm resolve that we would stand together as a nation, and work with other nations who like us promote respect and are willing to defend the liberty and the opportunities that we have. So it has in a way brought us all together in a resolute determination that we will make sure that the perpetrators are punished so that we can enjoy the freedoms that we have taken for granted up to this point.

But I see this also as the point of the need for science and technology. Coming from Washington, D.C., where there’s been such a problem with our office buildings, the postal facilities and the Supreme Court, people are clamoring for answers to what is happening with regard to anthrax. What about smallpox? What about computer security? There are so many facets of science where the needs are there, and I can see as we move out of this symposium that a lot of the answers are going to come from the women in this room and also those whom you touch outside of this room.

I’m also very proud of the fact that you have had this conference here at Bryn Mawr. I thought I knew something about Bryn Mawr and its earliest background. But Bryn Mawr in 1885 actually was the very first women’s college to offer graduate education all the way through to the Ph.D. to women. This was at the same moment in history that Myra Bradwell was not allowed to practice law even though she had studied it. Bradwell vs. State went all the way to the Supreme Court, where Bradwell lost her appeal. Writing for the majority, Justice Bradley said, "The natural and proper timidity of women unfits them for certain professions of civil life. The natural destiny of women is as wife and mother. This is the law of the Creator." Sandra Day O’Connor recalled Justice Bradley’s remarks when she became the first woman on the Supreme Court. Wherever he is now, I’m sure he knows he was absolutely wrong. But then, those who founded Bryn Mawr knew that at the time. You were there, taking care of women’s education even beyond the undergraduate. And I commend you for that.

Bryn Mawr is in particular a perfect place for demonstrating the success we can achieve in math and science education for women. Bryn Mawr was one of the eight institutions in 1998 to receive a National Science Foundation Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Math and Engineering Mentoring for its outstanding Physics Department. It was one of 17 institutions to receive an award through National Science Foundation’s institution-wide reform of undergraduate education in science, math, engineering and technology program. Moreover, a study done at UCLA identified Bryn Mawr as one of just 11 institutions in the nation out of more than 200 studied to score at the highest level for demonstrated faculty commitment to teaching and research.

I am also very proud that the National Science Foundation has at its helm a very capable woman, Dr. Rita Colwell. I have certainly worked very closely with National Science Foundation on the shortage of women in the sciences for many years. The Foundation continues to be at the forefront of federal agencies committed to looking inward at our own workforce to fill our future high tech needs. And who do I have here from National Science Foundation? I know there are several people who are here. And I thank you very much for the work that you do. Not only here, but what you do back in Washington.

The Diversity Challenge

I think it is imperative that we understand the diversity challenge, and that we meet that challenge by learning and by practicing how to recruit and how to retain women in science, engineering and technology fields. We must also strengthen our national focus on how to attract and keep underrepresented minorities in the fields of math and science. You all know that I introduced legislation to investigate and make recommendations in these areas. But I want you to know I introduced it in an earlier legislative session before the bill actually passed. We first called it the WISE Tech Bill, which stood for Women in Science and Engineering. When the bill was finally considered in the Science Committee during the end of the 105th Congress, a number of years after it was originally introduced, it was expanded and we authorized it as the Commission on the Advancement of Women, Minorities and Persons with Disabilities in Science, Engineering and Technology (CAWMSET).

With funding from several federal agencies, the Commission met many times between April 1999 and July 2000. There were 11 members, nine women and two men, of which three were minorities. Eight members were from the corporate sector, one was from a nonprofit organization and two were educators. After four meetings, many subcommittee meetings, and the testimony of 115 leaders in business, government and education, the Commission released its report, Land of Plenty, Diversity as America’s Competitive Edge in Science, Engineering and Technology. The members of the Commission may be good resources for you in different ways, and I found them all to be very willing to continue to help with moving forward beyond that report.

The report documents what we already know: women have historically been under-represented in science and engineering occupations, and female and minority students take fewer high-level math and science courses in high school. [I know we’ve got some high-school teachers here who have a tremendous responsibility in terms of what they can do to inspire females.] It documents that female students earn far fewer bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in science and engineering than men. Of those women who have pursued higher degrees in math and science, they are more likely to teach part-time as opposed to work in research universities. Additionally, of women who do hold full-time positions at universities, they’re rarely in high-ranking positions and they experience a substantial salary gap between themselves and their male counterparts. We also knew that women, who comprise almost 40 percent of our overall workforce, hold only 15 percent of the jobs in technical fields, and that seven out of 10 highly-skilled technical positions are held by white men, who make up about 40 percent of the workplace. And most importantly, we knew that these figures were unacceptable to fill our high-tech worker shortage.

We cannot remain dependent on recruiting foreign engineers and scientists. In 1999 we passed legislation to expand the ceiling for H1B visas from 65,000 to 115,000 people, and last year we raised the ceiling again to 195,000. I know that you are probably very familiar with The Third International Mathematics and Science Study or the TIMS Report. TIMS 1 and TIMS 2 compares the curricular experience and the achievement of students from over 50 different countries. In 1996, U.S. high-school seniors ranked among the lowest of the industrialized countries. The 1999 study recognized what we already knew, that the majority of African American and Hispanic students are isolated in schools that typically suffer from a grievous lack of resources. In that context, it is less surprising but no less unacceptable that African Americans and Hispanics, who make up 21 percent of the workforce, hold only 6 percent of STEM jobs. So we must ask the question: how can we supply the highly skilled workforce that America needs to remain competitive in a global economy?

Redressing Imbalances

The Commission concluded that redressing gender and racial imbalances in STEM is an economic and social imperative. Our increasingly diverse nation can only prosper on a broad foundation of human talent in order to maintain leadership in an increasingly global economy. The biggest challenge that the Commission faced was not establishing the facts, but understanding how certain stereotypes developed and creating recommendations of how to overcome patterns of racial and gender bias. The Commission was given four tasks:

  • Focus attention on ways to eliminate artificial barriers to the recruitment, retention and advancement of those underrepresented groups in science, engineering and technology;

  • Promote workforce diversity;

  • Sensitize employers of the need to recruit and retain women and minority scientists, engineers, computer specialists;

  • Encourage the replication of successful recruitment and retention programs by universities, corporations, and federal agencies.

Knowing the complexity of the subject, the Commission’s first recommendation is to adopt higher math and science standards, and at the state level, to train and retain better qualified teachers. There is, as you know, a shortage of teachers in these areas. The Glenn Commission was appointed as a result of the TIMS Report to look at what we can do in terms of math and science teaching. I served on that Commission. CAWMSET’s work dovetailed with that of the Glenn Commission. CAWMSET members asked, what is being done with math and science as a result of the Glenn Commission? We subscribe to their recommendations of what must be done to enhance and expand competence and opportunity for further education for our math and science teachers.

The second area covered by the Commission’s report was the education pipeline. We are losing girls from the math and science pipeline in elementary and middle school. Without female role models and mentors in this area, they do not envision their own success as a scientist, computer engineer or physicist. I had Bill Nye the Science Guy come before The House Science Committee, and we talked about the need to get women and minorities into STEM fields. And I said, "Mr. Nye, you know you’re so popular, everybody knows about you, and you motivate interest in science. What would you think of the concept of Kate Sal, the Technology Gal?" He thought that was a great idea.

We do need more age-appropriate role models. We do need to look at these women who are at various points in the pipeline as the role models for those that follow. All of you are assuming this role in your own way. You are mentors whether you are teachers, whether you are graduate students, whether you are in the private sector. But we need to make you better known. We need to make sure that females know that these are professions that can be exciting, and that the doors are open for them. The role models that we have, yourselves included, carry a very heavy burden.

Eileen Collins was there via teleconference as the Commission rolled out its findings. She was the first woman to command a space shuttle mission in July 1999. She received an associate’s degree from Corning Community College in New York in math and science before going to Syracuse for her bachelor’s in math and economics. Had there not been that opportunity, she might never have been in the pipeline at all. Many others are more fortunate to be able to have a more direct opportunity, for instance here at Bryn Mawr, for that kind of education.

The Commission also acknowledged the shortage of leaders in science, engineering and technology by recommending a national campaign to raise awareness of successful women and minorities and individuals with disabilities in science, engineering and technology careers.

Where We Go From Here

Where do we go from here? An organization that I am very proud to be a part of has risen to the challenge of helping to fulfill some of the Commission’s recommendations. A coalition of nine federal agencies, led by the National Science Foundation, has provided seed funding of $2.2 million to establish a public/private partnership to carry on the work of the Commission. The new partnership will be called BEST, an acronym for Building Engineering and Scientific Talent. It will spearhead a three-year national campaign by establishing itself as the nation’s hub for identifying and sharing best practices in building a stronger, more diverse technical workforce. BEST will be a resource for any institution or community in the country that wishes to meet the diversity challenge. BEST is still in its formative stages but is moving ahead pretty quickly. It will be based in San Diego, but it will have partnerships with federal, private and public organizations around the nation. It will be doing a lot of work in the Washington, D.C. environs, which would include Philadelphia.

Let me tell you a little bit more about this Building Engineering and Scientific Talent organization. I mentioned federal support coming from nine federal agencies. They are the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, NASA, Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST), Department of Energy and Department of Education. It has a national advisory board, and I am one of the co-chairs of that national advisory board with Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), who currently chairs the Congressional Black Caucus and serves with me on the House Science Committee. Other members include Marty Evans, president of the Girl Scouts; John Slaughter, president of the National Action Council of Minorities in Engineering; Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences; and Bill Wulf, president of the National Academy of Engineering. There will be three blue-ribbon panels that will be convened to produce national best practices in higher education. Some of the prominent women whom you have probably heard of — again, those role models — will be part of those. Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, is chairing one of these panels. Dr. Jackson is a theoretical physicist; a former research scientist at AT&T Bell Laboratories; a former professor at Rutgers; a former chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; a life member of the MIT Corporation; a member of the National Academy of Engineering; and the first woman to win the Black Engineer of the Year Award. Carol Muller, founder and executive director of MentorNet, the national electronic mentoring network for women in engineering and science, will chair another panel. She is also a consulting associate professor of engineering at Stanford. Lilian Shaio-Yen Wu, who chairs the National Research Council’s Committee on Women in Science and Engineering, will chair the third panel. Dr. Wu is an applied mathematician, a technical consultant at IBM, and a past member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

This national initiative is an enormous challenge, but it is a necessary one. For example, we know that many more women complete high school with the skills to pursue technical careers than actually do. Limiting factors that come into play starting in grade school, continuing through higher education and into the workplace, create a variety of barriers. The net result is that women are generally and greatly underrepresented in our technical workforce, and our workforce is weaker for it. The challenge I mentioned is even more profound for African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans. And many of these groups don’t even acquire the basic skills in K-12 to pursue technical careers.

So it is going to take leadership on the part of the government, industry and educators to meet the diversity challenge. And I would also stress the fact that industry must rise to this diversity challenge. We need more CEOs who are engaged in improving K-12 education, whose companies are mentoring women and minorities in college, and who believe in strengthening their companies through diversity. I see the role of educators as also very critical in this equation. Reaching out to women and other underrepresented minorities in science, engineering and technology can make all the difference in a student who is interested but not confident.

Education as always is a key to our preparedness in math and science. And that happens at institutions of higher education such as Bryn Mawr. Now, Amy Lowell — I draw here on my history as teacher of English — Amy Lowell wrote a poem that is a rather lengthy one called "Sisters," and I just remember at one point as a poet she was looking back at whom she could look to for the advice, for the inspiration, for the experience from which she might gain. And she looked at Sappho and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Emily Dickinson, and realized that although they were all women, each reflected a different sociohistoric context and thus faced different kinds of barriers, and wrote in different styles. But what they had in common is that they were women who had to transcend certain barriers to succeed as poets.

So at the end of the poem Lowell writes, "I hope that someday, somebody who thirsts to write will look upon me as I have looked upon you my sisters." And for you as women in science, engineering and technology, I think you are able to say the same thing as you look at Florence Nightingale, Elizabeth Blackwell, Mary Edwards Walter, Marie Currie, and more contemporary women such as Sally Ride and Rita Colwell. I hope that someday some woman who thirsts to have contributed something in science, engineering and technology will look upon me as I have looked upon you. We are sisters.

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