Women and minorities are substantially underrepresented in the STEM fields that are central to the innovation economy. In 2020, women received only 24% of undergraduate and 25% of doctoral degrees in engineering, only 26% of undergraduate and doctoral degrees in math and computer science, and only 33% of undergraduate and 35% of doctoral degrees in economics. Underrepresented minorities (Black, Hispanic, and Native American) received 19% of undergraduate but only 4% of doctoral degrees in engineering, 21% of undergraduate but only 5% of doctoral degrees in math and computer science, and 15% of undergraduate but only 5% of doctoral degrees in economics. These shares have changed little over time, and in some cases have decreased over time (National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, 2023).
The underrepresentation of women and minorities in the STEM fields that are driving technological innovation deprives those fields of critical talent, slows the pace of innovation (Risi et al 2022, Yang et al 2022), and threatens an economic future that unequally distributes the returns from innovation. In order to realize an innovation economy that both benefits from and values the full distribution of talent in the population, we need to ensure that women and minorities are more equal contributors to the innovation fields of engineering, computer science, math, and economics.
We currently lack reliable evidence about cost-effective and scalable interventions that can be widely implemented on university campuses to increase the shares of women and minorities receiving degrees in critical STEM fields. Yet recent pilot trials suggest these interventions exist, including those that provide outreach, mentoring, and advising support to women and minorities, and those that ensure more effective reporting and disciplinary procedures for addressing discriminatory behavior (Bayer et al 2019, Ginther et al 2020, Porter and Serra 2020, Canaan and Mouganie 2021, Dahl and Knepper 2021, Ginther and Na 2021, Bostwick and Weinberg 2022, Shan 2022, Adams-Prassl et al 2022, Batut et al 2022, Boudreau et al 2022, Folke and Rickne 2022).
We need to replicate these pilot trials across multiple campuses and scale them to larger samples to assess cost-effectiveness at scale. We need to develop and test other interventions that may also be successful at increasing the numbers and persistence of women and minorities in critical STEM degree programs. We need to ensure that effective interventions are implemented widely on university campuses by provosts, deans, and departmental chairs.
To achieve these goals, the Social Science Research Council is leading an initiative to grow the rigorous evidence base for cost-effective and scalable interventions that increase the numbers and success of women and minorities in STEM fields, and to work with leaders of the 46+ research institutions in the College and University Fund for the Social Sciences (CUF) to ensure implementation of successful interventions.
Through this initiative, the Council has launched a Women in Economics Research Consortium, administered by the SSRC in partnership with the American Economic Association’s Committee on the Status of Women in the Economic Profession (CSWEP). This consortium is hosting an open call for proposals to conduct evaluations of potentially scalable interventions to increase the numbers and success of women in economics, and will work with leaders of CUF institutions to support the implementation of effective interventions on college and university campuses across the country. The SSRC is currently in conversations with funders to expand this consortium to include additional STEM disciplines and other underrepresented populations.