House and Senate Science Leaders Seek to Increase Role of Women in Science

On May 25th, APA cosponsored a congressional briefing, "Advancing Women in Science," with a number of organizations in coordination with the Congressional Caucus on Women's Issues and the Congressional STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Education Caucus.

On May 25th, APA cosponsored a congressional briefing, "Advancing Women in Science," with a number of organizations in coordination with the Congressional Caucus on Women's Issues and the Congressional STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Education Caucus. Given the recent controversy over remarks by Harvard President Larry Summers, Members of Congress and the scientific communities are also seeking answers to why women are underrepresented in many fields of science and engineering. Psychologist Nora Newcombe, PhD, Temple University, provided a brief summary of the current state of cognitive science research on gender differences in learning, and brought the role of culture and the social environment front and center to the debate.

Dr. Newcombe was joined by four other speakers representing different perspectives on how to encourage women to succeed in science, as well as seven members of Congress who came by to offer their support for this important issue. Congressional guests included Reps. Judy Biggert (R-IL), Ginny Brown-Waite (R-FL), Mark Udall (D-CO), Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), Rush Holt (D-NJ), Hilda Solis (D-CA) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). Former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder also attended the briefing and was given many compliments for paving the way for other women members.

On June 6th, Senate supporters of advancing the role of women in science sponsored a similar briefing entitled, "Women in Science," focused more directly on the social and environmental factors that influence women in their career and family choices. APA Past President Dianne Halpern, PhD, Claremont-McKenna College, and psychologist Virginia Valian, PhD, Hunter College, presented their findings on this issue. Dr. Halpern emphasized that women are well-represented in the life sciences, but constitute less than thirty percent of the graduates in fields of math, computer science, or engineering. Dr. Valian discussed how unconscious bias impacts the perception of competence of women in male-dominated fields and how this may affect women's opportunities for promotions or tenure in the academic sciences.