Lost in the Numbers: Gender Equity Discourse and Women of Color in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)

By Lisette E. Torres.

Published by The International Journal of Science in Society

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The National Science Foundation (NSF) documented an increase of 29.1% in female Ph.D.s in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from 1976 to 2008. Yet, there has been no growth in the number of female science faculty at postsecondary institutions such as Iowa State University (ISU). From 1993 to 2003, science departments at ISU hired men and Whites 63% and 78% of the time, respectively. Similarly, 16% of women typically resigned after three years versus 4% of men (Litt & Debinski, 2004). In 2006, ISU applied for and received NSF funding to create an ADVANCE Program meant to respond to this lack of gender equity and to promote institutional change. Using feminist theory, I conducted a critical discourse analysis of ISU ADVANCE documents and website to examine the language used to discuss gender equity and women of color. Connected through the interlocking systems of capitalism, patriarchy, and racism, the following themes were revealed: 1) the political economy of equity and diversity in STEM; (2) the maintenance of male dominance and the general status quo; and (3) the “universal woman” and the normalization of Whiteness. Here, I focus on the interlocking themes of patriarchy and racism and demonstrate how these systems effectively remove women of color from the discourse of equity in STEM.

Keywords: Gender, Race, Critical Discourse Analysis, Feminist Theory, Patriarchy, Women of Color, Science, STEM, Intersectionality, Equity

The International Journal of Science in Society, Volume 3, Issue 4, pp.33-46. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 819.093KB).

Lisette E. Torres

Research Assistant, The Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, Iowa State University, Ames, USA

Lisette Torres has a B.A. in Earth and Environmental Science from Lehigh University and a M.S. in Zoology from Miami University. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Education with a concentration in Social Justice at Iowa State University. As a former ecologist and as a woman of color, she is passionate about her research interests that revolve around (1) gender and racial equity in academia, (2) scientific culture and socialization, (3) the recruitment and retention of students of color in higher education and the sciences, and (4) the history of access to higher education for Puerto Rican women. She considers herself a critical theorist and social change agent. She hopes that her research will shed light on how scientists, institutions of higher education, and funding agencies (such as the National Science Foundation) can change organizational culture and behavior and can construct diversity initiatives that truly promote equity.