(CN) – Using four years’ worth of data, researchers have shown that the number of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is increasing, but efforts to retain women, promote them and facilitate their careers in related fields are lacking.
“Our hope is that this effort will be a model for others, help draw institutional attention to gender equity and provide a foundation upon which efforts to promote gender equity can build in the future,” said Reshma Jagsi, study co-author and director of University of Michigan’s Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine, in an interview.
Published Thursday in the journal Cell Stem Cell, the study is based on 741 report cards from 541 institutions in 38 North American and European countries. Results reflect facts about people and institutions applying for grants from the New York Stem Cell Foundation.
“Funding organizations are in a unique position to require institutional leaders to pay attention to equity, diversity and inclusion within their organizations,” said Jagsi. “By requiring these report cards and identifying environments that promote the careers of men and women alike, funding organizations can promote actions on the part of institutions that will help all scientists to thrive – helping society to benefit from the full pool of talent that exists to perform scientific research.”
The data show “headway,” Jagsi said in a statement accompanying the study, but there “also remains quite a bit of room for improvement.”
The average institutional grade is 4.0, meaning women represented 40% of students, instructors, and speakers at the places involved. Many institutions had few women in senior positions.
According to the study, “as seniority increased, the representation of women decreased,” which translates to a lack of women-to-women mentorship opportunities.
“I found it noteworthy that there were regional differences,” Jagsi said in the statement. “For example, institutions in Europe come closer to achieving gender parity.”
The data also show that institutions teaching clinical skills tend to score higher than those teaching basic sciences.
Identified areas for improvement include the need for benchmarks for gender diversity and all-gender representation on important committees, such as committees for peer review or speaker selection, support for family care and childcare as well as programs to encourage mentoring and networking among women.
While calling out programs like Athena Swan, ADVANCE and Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) as possible models for best practices, the authors conclude it’s important for institutions to make it easier for applicants to complete what can be onerous administrative requirements. In addition, they say, institutions need to make workloads equitable and related decision-making transparent.
Among the institutions reporting, most (72%) are North American. The majority of institutions included represent basic science fields (66%) as opposed to clinical ones. In addition, most (86.4%) affiliate with universities rather than private hospitals or other STEM concerns.
To calculate institutional grades, researchers took the “average percentage of women among undergraduate and graduate/post-graduate students; assistant, associate, and full professors; and invited seminar speakers” and multiplied by 10.