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Seeking Advice on Women in Science

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AAAS Chief Executive Officer Alan I. Leshner

Role models may already be a proven method of eradicating the gender gap, says Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Credit: AAAS

A hearing of the U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology's Subcommittee on Research and Science Education concluded that while the scientific and engineering community is far more diverse than it was 20 years ago, there are still major gender gaps in the field. The under-representation of women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields can be seen in the proportions of degrees granted to each gender.

In 2006, women received 58 percent of all bachelor's degrees, but only 20 percent of computer science bachelor's degrees, 21 percent of physics degrees, and 20 percent of engineering degrees, the National Science Foundation (NSF) reports. Nevertheless, the NSF also reports that women hold more than half of science and technology degrees, with women earning 77 percent of psychology degrees, 62 percent of biological sciences degrees, and 54 percent of social sciences degrees.

Catholic University professor Sandra Hanson says the culture of science is often associated with white men. She says that when children are asked to draw pictures of scientists, they usually draw white males, and when they do draw women they often look "severe and unhappy." Nearly 70 percent of all fourth graders report liking science, but by eighth grade male students report liking STEM fields twice as much as female students.

American Association for the Advancement of Science CEO Alan Leshner says that role models may already be an effective method for eliminating gender gaps, as can be seen in biological sciences, where the number of female role models is far greater than in other STEM fields.

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