Here's What One Foundation is Doing to Support Women in STEM

We've written a ton in the past year on the STEM funding gold rush, and the many funders who are now giving in this space. These funders come to the STEM space with a variety of motives. Many of the corporate STEM funders are deeply concerned about ensuring a future supply of skilled workers for their industries. Other foundations come at the issue from an equity angle, wanting to expand access to the good-paying jobs of tomorrow. Related to this, diversity concerns loom large for many STEM funders, and a range of initiatives aim at bringing more women and young people of color into STEM fields. 


Along these lines, one funder worth spotlighting is the Henry Luce Foundation, which, through its Clare Boothe Luce Program, encourages women in STEM fields by supporting teaching and scholarship by female scientists. Its one of a number of programs supported by funders across the nation to increase women's representation in the STEM fields.

Funders are focused on this challenge for good reasons. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that although they comprise 47 percent of the U.S. labor force, women are not well represented in many science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. Only 39 percent of chemists and materials scientists are women, as are only 28 percent of geoscientists and environmental scientists. In some engineering fields, the female proportion is even lower. Less than 20 percent of civil and chemical engineers are women.

Female scientists in academia fare no better. Some have related stories of hearing that they "don't look like a scientist." One told U.S. News & World Report that it was only when she began adding male colleagues' names to her research papers and grant applications that she began getting published more often and receiving more funding for future research.

The Clare Booth Luce Program supports women working in STEM fields in part through an ongoing commitment to 13 designated institutions of higher education. The schools include Boston, Fordham, and Georgetown universities; Seton Hall; Notre Dame; and Mount Holyoke College. In addition, the funder recently announced grant awards to 11 additional colleges. The funds will support undergraduate scholarships and research awards at seven schools, graduate fellowships at one, and professorships at three.

Overall, the grants will support 80 women working in STEM fields. The selected schools include Barnard College in New York, College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, Columbia University, Duke University, Harvey Mudd College, and Worcester Polytechnic in Massachusetts.

But the Luce Foundation's commitment to supporting women in STEM doesn't stop here. The funder's Higher Education program complemented the Clare Boothe Luce program by awarding a three-year, $450,000 grant to Higher Education Resource Services (HERS) in Denver to establish a project that trains women in STEM for leadership roles in higher education.

These and similar efforts across the country are of great importance in funneling more women into the career opportunities and higher-paying jobs that the STEM fields offer. The White House recently recognized the gains made by women in STEM, but acknowledged much more remains to be done. Efforts by funders such as Luce could go a long way to entice more young women to consider pursuing degrees in careers in the sciences.