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Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
About the Guest Editor
Pooran Wynarczyk holds the Personal Chair of Small Enterprise Research and is the founder and Director of the Small Enterprise Research Unit (SERU) at Newcastle University. Since joining the University in 1983, she has been a principal investigator, award holder of several major Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), EU and consultancy funded action research, training and business support/outreach related projects in key areas of the scientific based SMEs, entrepreneurship, gender and innovation and has published widely. Her recent report, Gender Gap in the Scientific Labour Market funded by the ESRC Science in Society and the Higher Education European Social Fund National Programmes, which has proposed the establishment of a "Role Model Platform for Women Scientists", as well as the establishment of an "International Research Forum on STEM" has generated a great deal of interests amongst policy makers, academics, media and practitioners at local, national and international levels. She is a Board Director of the Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship and a sponsor and member of the Judging Panel for the Spirit of Innovation Awards.
This special issue comes at the time when a burgeoning attention is focused on (1) why there are far fewer women than men in sciences around the world, (2) addressing and identifying the barriers, and (3) attempting, but without much success, to find solutions to remedy the current situation. In fact, concerns about the under-representation of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) have been raised and expressed by researchers, policy makers and practitioners since the seventies. Hence, considerable efforts have been devoted to the development of numerous initiatives, reports, organisations, and bursaries. However, even with the slight improvement in the level of participation of women in STEM in recent years, this highly important segment of the labour market, in general, remains male-dominated around the world. Increasingly, research and policy has focused on the continuous "dropping out" of girls and women at every stage of the so called "STEM leaky pipeline". From choosing science subjects at school, to first degree, higher degree, and then in the scientific labour market, only a trickle of women eventually emerge to make successful careers in science beyond the "glass ceiling" (e.g. Greenfield, 1994; 2003; Blickenstaff, 2005). This appears to be the norm today as it was three decades ago when STEM initiatives and organisations began to mushroom in order to fix the "leaky pipeline".
Research and policy have continuously identified a number of barriers, including discrimination, stereotypes, the very nature of the scientific culture, organisational culture, work-life balance and family issues and a lack of female role models. Etzkowitz et al. (2000), for example, raised a fundamental issue about the lack of participation of women in scientific positions. They claim that from an early age:
…boys and girls develop different gendered images of scientists and what they do. (p. 26).
In many ways, women are unable to choose to do science: society has already chosen who will do science through its construction of gender roles. (p. 47).
It is clear that the home and school environment influences girls vision of their role in society but also their degree of assertiveness, experimentation, self-motivated exploration and risk taking – important features in the lives of successful scientists. These factors influence women's choice of subjects at school, particularly mathematics, the "critical filter", and their subsequent capabilities and confidence to pursue a career in science. This is before taking into account family issues and explicit hostility to women in science due to its nature and male domination.
At the "Celebrating Diversity in the European Union" Conference held in London on the 24 November 2005, Meg Munn, MP, UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Women and Equality) stated that;
The UK Government is committed to helping bring about a country where everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their potential – whatever their background, their sex, class, religion or race, regardless of age, disability or sexual orientation. We believe such a country would not only be a fairer place in which to live, but would encourage the talents of all our people to bloom. Governments can make all the laws we like, but its changing hearts and minds about these issues that will ultimately determine the future shape of society. We have to make further progress in tackling discrimination and promoting equality.
As a result of equal opportunities legislations and laws in education and employment, formal discrimination against women has, generally, been removed. However, there are a number of professional, personal and institutional barriers which continue to prevent equality for women in STEM. Whilst the introduction of legislation can be a lengthy process, the need to change the institutional culture and the removal of barriers underpinning the lack of participation of women in STEM remain and their removal is likely to be even more prolonged. As Jacob Clark Blickenstaff correctly points out;
No one in a position of power along the pipeline has consciously decided to filter women out of the STEM stream, but the cumulative effect of many separate but related factors results in the sex imbalance in STEM that is observed today (p. 1).
It is evident, from the existing literature, as well as this collection, that there is a needfor more detailed and rigorous research at international levels to examine the cumulative effects of separate but equally important underlying factors. Existing research also tends to focus on the barriers to participation and less attention is paid to success stories. If existing women scientists are neither visible nor seen to be enjoying a rewarding and progressive career, they are unlikely to be able to act as role models and serve the purpose of further recruitment and retention.
Furthermore, it has become apparent that research, policy and practice generally tend to focus on STEM occupations and the roles performed by women in these occupations are left largely to conjecture. There is also a particular paucity of research, data and information on the parts STEM women play in the public and private industries/organisations outside of the educational sector. Furthermore, the degree towhich women occupy positions directly connected to scientific activities and discoveries (e.g. invention, the innovation process, industrial R&D and patenting) remains largely unknown. Review of the literature suggests that until very recently there has been an implicit assumption that invention and innovation were largely the preserves of men perhaps reflecting the engineer-driven designs of manufacturing and male dominance of particular industries and occupations. Women do not appear strongly in the inventive and innovative literatures except as exceptional examples (e.g. Jaffe, 2003) rather than as a result of a well researched topic. This appears to result largely from the issue not being addressed in government surveys on the subject and a general lack of research from elsewhere, notably academia. In her recent book, Ingenious Women, Deborah Jaffe demonstrates that women are behind much larger number of innovations and inventions that traditionally given credit for. Furthermore, Jaffe's evidence of invention and innovation activities of women has demonstrated that,unlike what is generally assumed, not all innovation and inventions reflect "traditional roles" of women, of a domestic nature for example. She made reference, for example, to Stephanie Kwolek's invention, Kevlar, the material inside bullet – proof vests. These are under-researched areas and essentially worthy of international, both interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary, collaborative investigations.
This special issue presents some recent findings of research into women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). The contributions are from international authors in the USA, Australia and the UK. The papers generally focus on those scientific disciplines in which women are predominantly under-represented, namely, mathematics, computer science and engineering.
J. McGrath Cohoon, Zhen Wu, and Wenyi You's paper contributes further to the existing evidence of graduate student perceptions and motivations that extends career choice theories to both home and international students, studying graduate computer science and computer engineering (CSE) in the USA. Based on the empirical findings of a subset of survey data collected through the USA's Computing Research Association's Graduate Cohort Program, they investigate how women from different cultural backgrounds have different motivations for graduate study in this discipline and whether this will improve the ability to attract more women (home or international) into CSE in the USA. Their investigation reveals that women from around the worldand the USA are brought to this discipline by their interest and enjoyment ofcomputing, confidence in their ability to complete their program, positive undergraduate experiences, career expectations, and anticipation of opportunities equal to those afforded their male colleagues. They concluded that these similarities indicate that any program interested in gender balanced enrollment should promote women's interest and confidence, and provide high quality and engaging undergraduate experiences.
Helen M.G. Watt, Jacquelynne S. Eccles and Amanda M. Durik have examined the motives influencing female adolescents' choices in mathematics participation during high school, which has implications for their long-term careers. Based on two longitudinal samples, one from Sydney, Australia (N = 459), and the other from Southeastern Michigan, USA (N = 266), their findings showed that boys selected higher levels of mathematics than girls in the Australian setting, although not in the US sample. They found that interest in and liking for mathematics was the strongest influence on the Australian adolescents' choices for mathematics participation, withability beliefs also influencing choices over and above prior mathematical achievement. Ability-related beliefs and different kinds of values also predicted adolescents' choices in the US sample, more strongly for girls than boys. They questioned whether policies should focus on keeping girls in the mathematics pipeline for as long as possible in both countries.
Pooran Wynarczyk and Chloe Renner's paper investigated the "gender gap" in scientific-based small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in England, focusing on factors such as employment and management structure, educational background and the personal and professional barriers that prevent women from progressing in scientific management and R&D related occupations. Based on the empirical evidence of 45 female SET employees and 48 scientific based SMEs operating in England, their findings reveal a marked gender gap in the level of SET participation, particularly in managerial positions and R&D related occupations. They suggested that the low level of participation stems from limited supply of qualified females into SET related fields. Interestingly, the level of SET gender specific barriers for the females beyond the glass ceiling were lower than levels reported in previous research and were predominantly focused around work-life balance and family issues. Their paper concluded that more emphasis needed to be placed on increasing the level of participation of females in SET education.
Dana M. Wilson-Kovacs, Michelle Ryan and Alex Haslam examined the challenges faced by women professionals who possess the qualifications, skills and knowledge that would allow them to be considered, alongside their male counterparts, for top-ranked positions in the UK IT private sector. Based on two in-depth case studies, their paper examined the concept of the glass cliff in order to explain what happens to women as they advance to senior positions. Their findings reveal that women in the IT private sector are more likely to face similar barriers in developing their career, as experienced by those in marginalized groups. They have emphasised the need to identify and address the cultural and organisational factors that may build up women's appointments to glass-cliff positions.
Abigail Powell, Andrew R.J. Dainty and Barbara M. Bagilhole's paper explores whether a strategy of critical mass can really work for women in the engineering sector. Based on semi-structured "face-to-face" interviews with some 34 female students, their findings suggest that a number of issues prohibit the theory of critical mass. These included women's acceptance of gender discrimination, viewing the industry positively, valuing their "novelty" status in the industry, and women's critical attitudes towards other women. Their findings reveal that women engineers either share the values and attitudes of their male colleagues or that on embarking on engineering careers, women assimilate to the engineering culture, failing to challenge the dominant masculine discourse.
Pooran WynarczykGuest Editor
ReferencesBlickenstaff, J.C. (2005), "Women and science careers: leaky pipeline or gender filter?", Gender and Education, Vol. 17 No. 4, pp. 369-86.Etzkowitz, H., Kemelgor, C. and Uzzi, B. (2000), Athena Unbound: The Advancement of Women in Science and Technology, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Greenfield, C.T.B. (1994), The Rising Tide: A Report on Women in Science, Engineering and Technology, HMSO, London.Greenfield, C.T.B. (2003), A Strategy for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology: Government Response to SET Fair, A Report from Baroness Susan Greenfield to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Department of Trade and Industry, London.Jaffe, D. (2003), Ingenious Women from Tincture of Saffron to Flying Machines, Sutton Publishing Limited, Stroud.