SBE-UKRI:Centering Women of Color in STEM: Data-Driven Opportunities for Inclusion

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: School of Physics and Astronomy

Abstract

Women of color-particularly US Black women and Latinas, and Black Asian Minority Ethnic in the UK-are deeply underrepresented in some STEM disciplines, principally physics/astrophysics/astronomy, computer science, math, aerospace engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering and mechanical engineering (National Science Foundation & National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, 2019). Women who persist in these fields, especially women of color, experience isolation, microaggressions and sexual harassment (Barthelemy, McCormick, & Henderson, 2016; Gonsalves, Danielsson, & Pettersson, 2016; Johnson, Ong, Ko, Smith, & Hodari, 2017). However, little is known about the finer details of this underrepresentation: the kinds of institutions where women of color are markedly underrepresented and those where they thrive; institutional policies and practices that lead to inclusive cultures; benchmarks about what constitutes an above-average performance. Access to good data is needed to address all these gaps.
Thus, we request funding to create a publicly available portal through which STEM professionals and others can access data about the under-representation of women of color in these fields. We imagine the following audiences for this portal:
-STEM professors who want to create more inclusive departments and are in need of baseline information about their own institution as well as a way to measure their improvement over time;
-Researchers in need of information to better understand the dynamics of underrepresentation and identify powerful practices for inclusion;
-Women seeking out more inclusive places to study or work.
This project grows out of our prior research into STEM departments where women report that they are thriving. That research pointed to concrete actions professors took to make their departments inclusive. In that project, a woman majoring in math told us "Math is like a family. If you show the slightest interest in it, all the professors are like "let me show you how much fun math can be." A woman majoring in physics said "the professors are willing to work with you. So if they see you trying and working hard, they're going to put in the extra time to make sure you're understanding it." Another physics major told us, about her department, " I can't really think of anything I don't like." We have found a hunger among STEM professors to create environments like this; our goal in this project is to provide them with data to help in this goal.

Researchers from Eureka Scientific, Inc., AlderSEA, St. Mary's College of Maryland, and the University of Birmingham, UK, will support institutions concerned with addressing this underrepresentation by creating a portal through which US and UK STEM departments can measure their success at graduating women (especially women of colour) to that of comparable institutions and to their own prior performance. The portal will make use of sophisticated visualization tools and will be accessible and user-friendly.
Users of this portal will include:
- STEM professors who want to contribute to progress in science by recruiting and supporting the most talented young scientific professionals of all backgrounds,and are in need of baseline information about their own institution as well as a way to measure their improvement over time;
- Researchers in need of information to better understand the dynamics of underrepresentation and identify powerful practices for broadening participation;
- Students seeking out more effective places to study.
The project will allow for identification of exemplary predominantly white, coeducational institutions, and to create opportunities for peer institutions to document their own progress towards inclusion. Since most women of colour attend predominantly white institutions, this work has the potential to improve the postsecondary educational environment where the majority of these women work and learn.

Planned Impact

Beyond spotlighting women of color, the Broader Impacts of CWCS are the potential to identify sites of inclusive practice among exemplary predominantly white, co-educational institutions, and to create opportunities for peer institutions to document their own progress towards inclusion. Since most women of color attend PWIs, this work has the potential to improve the postsecondary educational environment where the majority of these women work and learn.

Over the last eight months, prior results have been presented at four national and international conferences, garnering great interest, and repeated requests for availability and usability by the broader STEM community. We anticipate that the outcomes of the proposed project will be particularly useful for STEM at PWIs

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