Everything that needed to happen has happened,” says Debra Rolison, a chemist at the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington, DC. By that she means that stirring the pot has paid off: Nearly a decade ago she suggested applying Title IX to achieve gender equity in university science departments, and now it’s not only the law but it’s backed by mandates for enforcement.

In 2004 the Government Accountability Office said that universities and national laboratories receiving federal funding need to show they are in compliance with Title IX. “That’s bedrock,” says Rolison. “The federal funding agencies have a regulatory responsibility to audit their grantees with respect to Title IX. Now it’s just a matter of doing it. We’re in the early stages.”

Enacted into US law in 1972, Title IX is known for opening up high-school and university athletics to women. But it makes no mention of sports:...

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