Representatives Request Government Accountability Office Study on Gender Bias

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Publication date: 
30 August 2013

Three representatives have asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine the “government’s effectiveness in combating gender bias in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.”  Representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) called for the study and have been actively working to address this issue throughout their careers in Congress.  This GAO study request was in response to a 2012 study by Yale University researchers which concluded that female undergraduate students are viewed as less qualified for employment in STEM fields than their male counterparts.   

Johnson is Ranking Member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee where she introduced H.R. 1358, the STEM Opportunities Act in March of this year and also introduced it in previous years.  The bill would require the National Science Foundation to collect comprehensive gender data on the recipients of federal research funding and on STEM faculty at US universities.  It would also require the Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop federal policies and guidelines for researchers who are recipients of federal funding and who have caregiving responsibilities. 

The issue of increasing the number of women in STEM fields has been studied and discussed by many policy makers and members of the scientific community.  The debate has been framed by the need to increase the number of US STEM graduates in order to meet employment demands of an increasingly technical workforce.  The occupational barriers to women in the STEM fields are a concern as the US works to increase the number of STEM graduates to fill employment opportunities. 

The Office of Science and Technology Policy and the White House Council on Women and Girls regularly collaborate on initiatives aimed at increasing the number of women who participate in STEM fields.  In 2011, Michelle Obama hosted the rollout of the National Science Foundation’s family friendly policies. 

“While women have advanced in the traditionally male-dominated fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics to the point where they now earn more STEM degrees than men, gender bias continues to reinforce a glass ceiling in the STEM professions which we have to break to maintain our competitive advantage in the world,” said Slaughter.  

“It is critical to our nation’s economic leadership and global competitiveness that we educate and train more scientists and engineers.  Research shows that women are disproportionately lost at every transition point in their STEM studies and careers.  As a nation, we simply cannot afford to continue losing this talent from the STEM pipeline,” said Johnson.
“Science, technology, engineering and math knowledge helps lay the foundation for a solid education and promising career path,” said DeLauro. “Unfortunately, we have known for years that many young girls are dissuaded from pursuing their interests in these fields, which is underscored by a recent Yale study. That is unacceptable and I look forward to reading the GAO’s recommendations on how we can end it.”
The representatives requested that the GAO update the 2004 report, Gender Issues: Women’s Participation in the Sciences Has Increased, but Agencies Need to do More to Ensure Compliance with Title IX.  In addition, they asked the GAO to investigate issues including pay equity, gender equality in the tenure promotion system, recruitment and retention of women, the responsibilities of Title IX Coordinators, data about gender bias in grant funding, and agency training on gender bias. 
The letter is available here.

The GAO’s mission is “to support Congress in meeting its constitutional responsibilities and to help improve the performance and ensure the accountability of the federal government.”  GAO provides Congress with “timely information that is objective, fact-based, nonpartisan, nonideological, fair, and balanced.”


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