Over Three Decades of Advancing Women in STEM

March 26, 2024 By Sarah DeMartazzi, Program Manager, Women in STEM
Over Three Decades of Advancing Women in STEM
Scholars from Indiana University's Diversity Scholarship Campaign.

The Clare Boothe Luce Program, established by Ambassador Clare Boothe Luce in 1989, celebrates its thirty-fifth anniversary this year. The program was created with the goal of increasing the participation of women in STEM fields in higher education. Over the years, the CBL program has made significant contributions, providing over $237 million in grants, supporting 217 unique institutions, and funding over 3,700 women. 

Despite the progress made by women in STEM, there is still a noticeable gender gap in these fields. According to the National Science Foundation, women received only 26% of bachelor's degrees in math and computer science in 2020, and just 24% of engineering degrees. In 2021, women accounted for a little more than one-third of the science and engineering workforce in the United States. 

As time has progressed, new barriers to women's recruitment and retention within STEM have emerged. There has been increased awareness of the inhibitive structures and institutions that have made STEM ecosystems inequitable. The Henry Luce Foundation recognizes that simply increasing the number of women in STEM is not enough to address the gender gap comprehensively. Achieving gender parity requires transforming cultures and institutions as well as increasing numbers. 

 Many partners have emphasized the need for structural and systemic change to shrink and eventually eliminate the gender gap. While supporting individual recipients is important, transforming STEM cultures and spaces ensures that those individuals stay within their STEM fields. 

The Foundation has made significant updates to the CBL Program to address institutional barriers that hinder women's success, as part of its commitment to gender equity. The Clare Boothe Luce Program and the 2021-launched STEM Convergence now form part of our broader Women in STEM Program. 

Empowering Young Women in STEM through STEM Convergence

Mathematical Association of America - MathFest 2024.

In recent years, the Foundation has established STEM Convergence, which complements CBL's work. STEM Convergence focuses on structural and institutional transformation, such as developing inclusive classrooms and workspaces, mentorship, and leadership programs across industries to make STEM more equitable for women, especially women of color. While CBL focuses on addressing the barriers within higher education, STEM Convergence seeks to address areas not tackled by CBL, both upstream and downstream of higher education. 

Our approach begins with research. We believe that quantitative and qualitative data help illuminate women's experiences, the barriers they encounter, and possible solutions. Data guides where resources should be directed and reveals where action is needed. For example, some of those data and research have led us to the K-12 space. Furthermore, research has highlighted that many girls are discouraged from pursuing STEM in the K-6 space. In other words, if we don't begin our efforts early on, it becomes increasingly challenging to pique curiosity and eventually create gender-diverse STEM fields. This knowledge has prompted us to consider the ecosystems in which girls grow up, from their classrooms to their families and communities, so that we can begin work with local partners to create landscapes where young girls can thrive and are provided ample opportunities to engage in STEM. 

However, what comes after the K-12 experience is also essential, and creating supportive and inclusive educational classrooms and professional environments for women to land in is also critical. Establishing pathways, such as internships or bridge programs, that span a woman's career and into leadership positions helps to address those places and spaces where women are lost and growth opportunities are needed. 

We know there's still much work to bring forth change. We're also optimistic about the future and know there are innovative, courageous, and inspired organizations doing amazing things within the United States and across the globe to change the face of STEM. Incredible work is being done at this very moment: some partners are finding ways to shift STEM classroom dynamics; others are supporting women in STEM at different stages of their learning and career trajectories; still, others are working to increase educational opportunities for young girls in developing and rural parts of the globe where access to STEM programming may be limited.  

When we think of the future, we think of this work and the transformative minds and hearts driving it forward. Clare Boothe Luce's vision for the future is gender parity within STEM. At the Foundation, we know that we need a many-pronged approach to see her vision come to reality, and every day, we have a better sense of the work that needs to be done and the work that is happening. We are optimistic that we will one day achieve her vision and the dreams of so many women and allies that STEM will genuinely be a space where women can thrive. 

Authored by:

Sarah DeMartazzi
Program Manager, Women in STEM: Sarah DeMartazzi

Prior to joining the Luce Foundation, Sarah was the administrative assistant for the PCLB Foundation, managing their office space and providing support for their grant cycle. She was also previously a research assistant at the New School and in the law firm of Paul Weiss. Sarah earned a master’s degree from the New School in Politics, focusing on Global Environmental Politics, and she earned her bachelor’s degree at Penn State University in International Relations with a minor in Environmental Inquiry.

Women in STEM

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