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Slaughter Report Shows Research Funding Disparity

When it comes to government-funded research, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter worried the funding goes mostly to men. When she tried to follow the money, she found some agencies don't even track the information as they are supposed to.

"The fairness issue is appalling, but the loss of brainpower is really what we can't afford to have."

In 2013, the Congresswoman requested a GAO study into suspected gender bias in federal STEM research: science, technology and math. The report is now public. It shows some funding agencies don't follow Title IX rules for equal opportunity or keep track of this information.

Congresswomen Louise Slaughter called on the federal agencies to act immediately to ensure gender equality in publicly funded research.

She remembers graduating college in 1953, when women were paid $.59 for every dollar a man earned for the same job, "and it was absolutely acceptable in the United States of America that we were worth half. Not because we weren't good students. Not because we weren't good scientists, but because we were women."

Slaughter says women currently earn $.79 for every dollar earned by men.

The GAO study found that several federal agencies are not doing their part to identify and address possible gender bias in federal research projects in the STEM fields. Slaughter called on six federal agencies to immediately address the shortcomings found by the study, including improving data collection and performing compliance reviews that are legally required under Title IX-the federal law that bans discrimination in publicly funded research and education.

The U of R and RIT are examining the impact of this funding disparity. Physics professor Scott Franklin is Director of RIT's Center for Advancing STEM Teaching, Learning, and Evaluation. He told WXXI true science is irrespective of gender, making this a representation issue.

Credit RIT
Scott Franklin

"The new generation of women entering into the STEM discipline have a much different attitude. They're much more aware of the biases and the offenses that are given to them, and much less willing to take it, which is wonderful."

Kate Cerulli has worked many projects funded by agencies such as the CDC, NIH and NIJ in the UR Psychiatry research lab - and she is director of the university's Susan B. Anthony Center.

"Our tax dollars are what are paying for these research grants. As a woman taxpayer, I want to be sure that my contributions are going to a fair and equitable process."

Rep. Slaughter says six federal agencies-award 90% of the nearly $25 billion in federal STEM grants awarded annually.

RIT’s Franklin offered an adage to sum up the impact of the disparity: ‘STEM can save the world when we take advantage of ALL resources.’

"It's clear from the report that we're not attracting the best and brightest. We are losing many, many, many talented women scientists and computer scientists. So, we won't solve the problems until we are taking advantage of all of the people who really want to go into this field."

Cerulli said she believes this is the tip of the iceberg.

"Because we see this in all fields: 8% of law firms nationally are led by women, 25% of STEM faculty are women, medical schools - you look across the nation and there are very few women that have reached full, faculty status, tenured faculty, full-time and leadership positions."

Cerulli hopes the report launches a much bigger, longer dialogue.

Credit UR
Catherine Cerulli, J.D., Ph.D.

"While the report provides an overview of what agencies are funding at the same rate for men and women - roughly 25% of grants being funded both for men or women. There were some agencies that were documented to "A" not be funding equitably, but "B" more importantly, not even keeping or tracking information that can answer these important questions."

She says this is an exciting time to be talking about this, especially here in Rochester.

"2017 is the celebration of 100 years of the women's right to vote in New York, and we are the home of Susan B. Anthony, and, pride of place, this is exactly the kind of research that should be coming out of New York."

  • To read Rep. Slaughter’s letter to the Secretary of HHS, click here.
  • To read Rep. Slaughter’s letter to the Secretary of Defense, click here.
  • To read Rep. Slaughter’s letter to the Attorney General, click here.
  • To read the GAO report, click here.
Brad Smith won the Cortland County (NY) spelling bee as a seventh grader from Homer High, in a championship broadcast live on local radio. Brad’s been trying to relive the “magnificent” (winning word) moment ever since.
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