National Science Foundation wants more women scientists and engineers

But tell them not to wear high heels...
Written by Deborah Gage, Contributor

The NSF has called for proposals on how to increase the number of women in academic science, engineering and math.

Biology, computer science, geoscience, physical science, social and behavioral science and economics are all on the list, although home economics is not -- I remember when it used to be a required course for girls in junior high. But times have changed.

Now, even though women earn close to half the Ph.D.s in these fields -- 46.1% in 2008, up from 17% in 1976 -- they do not occupy half of the faculty and administration positions at colleges and universities, the NSF says, and professors are the people who shape the next generation of scientists and engineers. Minorities and the disabled are even more scarce.

From the NSF, on some of the reasons for the lack of women in science and math:

Research on factors that may account for the lower proportion of women in the various ranks of STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) faculties includes the effects of implicit and explicit bias; differential effects on women regarding conflicts between work and family demands; access to international collaborations; unequal access to resources such as laboratory space, salary, and supporting facilities; and underrepresentation of women in academic leadership and decision-making positions.5

The cumulative effect of such diverse factors has been to create formidable barriers to the participation and advancement of women in academic STEM careers.  Overcoming and eliminating these barriers, as well as addressing emerging challenges such as the increasing emphasis on a globally engaged STEM academic workforce and the increasing interdisciplinarity of STEM research and education, is critical to support the full participation of women in academic STEM careers.

There's also a push lately in male-dominated Silicon Valley for more women to start high-tech companies or become venture capitalists, for which you usually need science and math. See my story here about a new venture capital firm called Illuminate Ventures that was started by women to serve women entrepreneurs -- whose numbers are growing, but not fast enough.

Men are of course welcome at Illuminate too -- any venture firm that refused to fund companies started by men would go out of business fast.

Proposals to the NSF, meanwhile, are due in November.

(The picture above is of Marie Curie after she won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1911, her second Nobel Prize).

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Editorial standards