Giving Compass' Take:

• Stanford historian Londa Schiebinger discusses how more gender diversity in STEM will produce better results in STEM research.

• How can philanthropists fund diversity initiatives for research institutes?

• Read about addressing gaps in STEM from the Giving Compass STEM Education guide for donors. 

Women and girls are increasingly encouraged to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers, potentially leading to greater gender diversity within research organizations. While Stanford historian Londa Schiebinger sees that as a positive step, she wants those organizations to go further by also supporting the changes to research itself brought on by the greater diversity.

“Everybody supports diversity these days,” Schiebinger says. But for the most part, that diversity refers to the people on the team, not the outcomes. “Our hypothesis is that if you bring diversity to the team, you get diversity in the kinds of questions people ask,” she says.

Schiebinger and a team of researchers recently published a paper in Nature Human Behaviour proposing ways organizations can continue to encourage gender diversity while also supporting diversity in new research directions that may result.

Schiebinger points out three kinds of diversity:

  • Diversity in research teams
  • Diversity in research methods
  • Diversity in the questions researchers ask

Those three types of diversity are interrelated, Schiebinger says. “Improving one likely leads to improvements in the others.” In areas like engineering, where women are still poorly represented, paying more attention to diversity in methods and questions asked may result in more success in attracting women to the field, she says.

Creating more diversity in people and in research methods are changes funding agencies or universities can directly encourage. Schiebinger says that when more men join fields like nursing or when more women join fields like computer science and engineering, those fields should be open to the changes in research directions and agendas newcomers are likely to introduce. They point to historians, who began exploring gender history, the history of sexuality, and a host of new questions as women entered the field over the past 30 years.

Read the full article about gender diversity in STEM by Amy Adams-Stanford at Futurity