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Bias against Women in Engineering?

When the National Academy of Sciences issued its report, Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering, in September 2006, it made headlines across the nation for its forceful indictment of long-running institutional anti-women bias.

For America's women engineers and the societies, organizations, and programs that work with them, however, it didn't come as news at all.

"Women have made major strides in other academic and professional areas, while their progress in a number of science and engineering fields remains stubbornly low," says C. Diane Matt, executive director of Women in Engineering Programs and Advocates Network (WEPAN), Inc.

Jude Garzolini, president of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), says the findings also echo her organization's work. "SWE has long been concerned with this issue."

Speaking for efforts that help women who choose engineering and science careers, Carol Muller, founder and CEO of MentorNet, says she and others doing similar work "were ahead of the majority of the scientific and technical community in bringing the social science research on gender to the attention of practitioners."

Can years of institutional bias and ongoing subtle discrimination against professional women in science and engineering be fixed in 15 minutes? The time may sound short, but according to two-thirds of the program's participants surveyed, those messages of encouragement and advice translate to a substantial base of support at critical moments in their academic pursuits.

Muller says that programs sponsored by MentorNet, SWE, WEPAN, and, among others, the Association for Women in Science and the Women in Engineering Leadership Institute, offer important forums that support women in science and engineering.

"The report provides a much needed policy imperative, and we hope university leaders will engage in a full assessment of the climate and take steps to improve the recruitment, retention, and advancement of women," says Diane Matt of WEPAN.

Carol Muller says she also hopes the report will prod a change but, like any good engineer, she is waiting for concrete results. "The National Academies, representing the nation's best-recognized scientists and engineers, have now heard about gender bias and discrimination from their own and reviewed by their own," she says. "It will be very interesting to see what actions may ensue."

For more information, contact Donald Lehr,

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Title Annotation:UPDATE
Publication:Resource: Engineering & Technology for a Sustainable World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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