For many decades, an increasing number of women have obtained STEM doctoral degrees, however, women, particularly women of color, continue to be significantly underrepresented in almost all STEM academic positions. While the degree of underrepresentation varies among STEM disciplines, women’s advancement to senior professorial ranks and leadership roles is an issue in all fields. The underrepresentation of women is also a critical issue for the nation, at large, as its need to develop a globally competitive and diverse workforce increases.
Research has shown that women’s representation and advancement in academic STEM positions are affected by many external factors that are unrelated to their ability, interest and technical skills (Spencer, et al, 1999; Halpern and Tan, 2001; Hyde, 2005; National Academy of Sciences, 2007). Such factors include, but are not limited to: stereotype threat, societal impacts, organizational constraints of academic institutions; differential effect of work and family demands; implicit and explicit bias; and lack of women in academic leadership and decision-making positions. The cumulative effect of such diverse factors has been to create infrastructural barriers that impact the number of women entering, persisting and advancing in STEM careers.
Thus, the goal of the ADVANCE program is to develop systemic approaches to increase the representation and advancement of women in academic STEM careers, thereby contributing to the development of a more diverse science and engineering workforce. ADVANCE also has as its goal to seminally contribute to and inform the general knowledge base on gender equity in the academic STEM disciplines.
Institutional Transformation awards are expected to include innovative and systemic organizational approaches to transform institutions of higher education in ways that will increase the participation and advancement of women in STEM academic careers. These awards support comprehensive programs for institution-wide change. Additionally, IT projects must include studies designed to investigate theory-driven models and innovations aimed at increasing the participation and advancement of women in the academic STEM disciplines.
Partnerships for Adaptation, Implementation, and Dissemination awards may focus on one institution or organization, or they may be a partnership between several institutions and/or organizations. PAID projects can focus on all STEM disciplines, several disciplines, or only one discipline, including the social and behavioral sciences. Projects may have an international, national, regional or local scope.
The National Science Foundation began supporting ADVANCE initiatives in 2001, and has awarded over $130M in funding for a variety of programs. The most significant efforts seek to create permanent institutional transformation.
Professional disciplinary groups allow members to meet, engage, and share knowledge. This effort is particularly important to foster supportive, collaborative networks among scientists from under-represented groups.
We have compiled multiple publicly available databases of the published research related to NSF ADVANCE program efforts to increase diversity in STEM education and the STEM labor force. These include the literature on implicit bias, mentorship and other topics.
Balance is real challenge facing many faculty, particularly women with children. The perception (and reality) of the inflexibility and rigor of an academic career is one cause for the lack of diversity in STEM disciplines.