Janet G. Osteryoung
National Science Foundation
In the fields of science and engineering, women are not represented in proportion to their fraction in the U.S. population. This underrepresentation is especially pronounced in academic departments, where hiring of women lags far behind their representation in the pool of doctoral degree holders. Furthermore, women apparently do not ascend the career ladder as fast or as far as their male counterparts. Recent reports 1,2 elaborate on the impact of this and related issues for science, the academic enterprise, the U.S. economy, and global economic competitiveness. The Chemical Sciences Roundtable judged that the demographics of the workforce and the implications for science and society vary, depending on the field of science or engineering. Accordingly, it organized a workshop, “Women in the Chemical Workforce,” to address issues pertinent to the chemical and chemical engineering workforce as a whole, with an emphasis on the advancement of women.
Each of the workshop's three sessions—Context and Overview, Opportunities for Change, and Conditions for Success—included, in addition to presentations by invited speakers, discussion within breakout groups and an oral report from each group.
CONTEXT AND OVERVIEW
The presentation by Margaret W. Rossiter, of Cornell University, was titled “1970-2000: A Less Than Golden Age for Women in Chemistry? ” The last 25 years have been a kind of golden age for women in science and engineering in the United States, compared with previous times. Laws were passed in 1972 that, pushed by well-publicized lawsuits, government investigations, voluntary pressure, and individual initiative, made substantial quantitative differences in the training and job opportunities
Office of Science Technology and Policy/National Science and Technology Council, Interagency Working Group, Ensuring a Strong U.S. Scientific, Technical, and Engineering Workforce in the 21st Century, Washington, D.C., April 11, 2000.
Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering, and Technology Development (CAWMSET), Land of Plenty: Diversity As America's Competitive Edge in Science, Engineering and Technology, July 13, 2000. Available online at <http://www.nsf.gov/od/cawmset/>.
open to women in chemistry, chemical engineering, and other fields of science and technology. Yet advancement and recognition for women have not occurred as rapidly in chemistry as in biology, despite many notable achievements such as “firsts” by Anna Harrison and a Nobel Prize for Gertrude Elion. One could ask, Why? Is there some unwritten agenda in chemistry (and chemical engineering) regarding career prospects or expectations that needs to be addressed? Are there “best practices ” that need to be more widely adopted? Moreover, should incentives be given to those who make improvements?
Why do so few women scientists occupy positions of power and prestige? Professor Virginia Valian, of Hunter College, CUNY, spoke on causes of slow advancement for women in science and engineering and discussed some remedies to speed up that advancement. Although women's underrepresentation at the top of the ladder has many causes, two are particularly evident. Gender schemas—our nonconscious hypotheses about sex differences—are an important cognitive reason that we all, men and women alike, undervalue women's performance and overvalue men 's. In addition, small instances of under- or over-valuation accumulate over time to disadvantage women and advantage men.
Arthur Bienenstock, of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, summarized the main findings and ideas of the report Ensuring a Strong U.S. Scientific, Technical, and Engineering Workforce in the 21st Century. The nation's economy, knowledge base, and ability to address pressing public health, environmental, and national security challenges in the 21st century will depend greatly on the strength of its scientific, technical, and engineering (ST&E) workforce. Workers in ST&E are essential to both the private and public sectors. Based on a tight global ST&E workforce, changing demographics, and projected growth in ST&E-based jobs, it is in the national interest to pursue the development of domestic ST&E workers from all ethnic and gender groups. We should pay special attention to women, underrepresented minorities, and persons with disabilities. It is these groups, currently underrepresented in the ST&E workforce, that account for much of our nation's growing talent pool.
Following the presentations in the session on context and overview (Chapter 1, Chapter 2 through Chapter 3), breakout sessions were organized to enable more extensive discussion among the workshop participants. The following questions and statements were suggested to the breakout groups as possible topics for consideration:
Tell some stories about your workplace.
What gender schemas do you see operating in your workplace?
What are the consequences of underrepresentation of women in science and engineering, especially at higher professional levels?
Discussion leaders from the breakout groups then reported in plenary session what they believed to be important ideas and topics brought out in the discussions. The reporters for this session were Sandra C. Greer (University of Maryland), W. Sue Shafer (University of California, San Francisco), Geraldine L. Richmond (University of Oregon), Lou Ann Heimbrook (Lucent Technologies), and Frankie K. Wood-Black (Phillips Petroleum). Stories from the workplace frequently centered on the difficulties experienced by women who find that they are the only woman in a group. The consequences of there being only small numbers of women in highly visible positions also were discussed from the perspective that there are not enough different role models for younger women. A third point of discussion was the need to ensure sufficient numbers of women at every level so that there is a good recruiting pool for positions vacated at higher levels. Much of the discussion elaborated on the notion of schemas discussed by Professor Valian.
She argued that many of the difficulties faced by women in the workplace —difficulties reinforced by the small numbers—arise from discord between the schema for acceptable behavior of women and the schema describing appropriate professional behavior in an organization.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR CHANGE
L. Shannon Davis, of Solutia Inc., offered her perspective on women scientists in industry. Finding women at many levels in the chemical industry is no longer the oddity that it once was. How has the chemical industry seemingly made strides in the hiring, retention, and advancement of women? Some programs and approaches commonly encountered in the chemical industry include formal diversity training, mentoring, and networking. Continuing and improved success depend on executive leadership and the use of specific tactics that have been proven to be effective.
Debra R. Rolison, of the Naval Research Laboratory, spoke on the topic “Title IX for Women in Academic Chemistry: Isn't a Millennium of Affirmative Action for White Men Sufficient? ” Chemistry departments need more women as faculty. Yet applications from women for advertised positions are said to approach only about 10 percent of the total, even though one-third of U.S. Ph.D.s in chemistry are awarded to women. Why aren't women chemists applying to academia in proportion to their numbers? Should the logic of Title IX be applied to U.S. chemistry departments? In other words, should federal funds be withheld from those universities that do not increase their faculty hires to reflect the pool of U.S.-granted chemistry Ph.D.s? Can the threat of the loss of federal dollars be the impetus for the changes necessary in U.S. universities to create a departmental environment that women will find hospitable? Many posit that such changes concomitantly will improve the academic experience for all faculty and students. Plausible action items include aggressively recruiting good women candidates for faculty openings, ensuring on-campus day care, mentoring junior faculty in the early stages of their careers, and truly rewarding good teachers and advisors for their skill in guiding and challenging their students. It is not coincidental that these efforts would help men, too.
The following questions and statements were suggested to the breakout groups as possible topics for discussion:
What are the negative and positive aspects of formal diversity programs?
Compare employment practices in industry and academia.
Are the best practices of industry transferable to academia?
Discussion leaders for this session were Frankie Wood-Black, Lou Ann Heimbrook, Geraldine Richmond, W. Sue Shafer, and Maria K. Burka (National Science Foundation). There was considerable discussion about formal diversity programs, with an emphasis on contrasting the situations in industry and academia. Several of the participants concluded that big companies can be successful in recruiting because of stable, well-developed personnel departments and procedures, mandated training, specific metrics used in evaluations of employees, and explicit reward systems. Professor Richmond emphasized the hostile environment often experienced by women faculty as well as the need for women to evaluate their individual situations and establish their own priorities. Professor Shafer emphasized the importance of viewing faculty as an investment. Dr. Burka attributed the weaknesses of academic practices in attracting women faculty to a general lack of accountability on the part of universities.
The workshop organizers and attendees were honored to have as the guest speaker at dinner after the second session the Honorable Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) of the House of Representatives. Congresswoman Johnson pointed out the importance of science and technology to increasing productivity and our current period of prosperity. These advances are largely the result of past investments and may be inhibited in the future by failure to invest appropriately today. An especially critical concern is the technical workforce, which is decreasing in relative size as demand increases. Furthermore, the pool of potential workers has a demographic composition (e.g., more women, more minorities) quite different from that of the existing technical workforce, which is heavily white and male. It is essential to invest in better education for all of our children to realize our country's potential in the 21st century.
CONDITIONS FOR SUCCESS
Kathy E. Sendall, of Petro-Canada, provided a Canadian perspective in her presentation, titled “Gender Diversity in the Workplace: The Leadership and Organizational Imperative.”3 The premise is that women must be attracted to and retained in the technical workforce, with particular emphasis on engineering and the participation of women in the petroleum sector. The business imperative makes it essential that all businesses worldwide embrace a new paradigm in order to remain competitive. The changing needs of industry and emerging expectations of a new engineering and leadership skill set suggest the value of an androgynous leadership style, that is, a style that incorporates the best features of male and female behavioral stereotypes. Data are presented on the Canadian situation, with respect to women in the workplace generally, and in the engineering profession specifically. Leadership by women is critical for going beyond the “programs” in the workplace to effect sustained change.
Nancy H. Hopkins, of MIT, discussed the MIT study on the women faculty in the School of Science, which was prompted by a perception on the part of senior women faculty that they were not treated as well as their male colleagues.4 The methodologies used in the study included detailed analysis of space allotments, salaries, funds for research, service on committees with power, and so on. The aftermath since the release of the report summary in the spring of 1999 has included widespread publicity, some institutional change at MIT, and rectification of problems in the treatment of women faculty.
The following questions and statements were suggested to the breakout groups as possible topics for discussion:
What are the unwritten agendas and folktales of career prospects for women in chemistry and chemical engineering? Are they realistic?
Are there rewards for an institution that improves its record with respect to hiring and promoting female chemists and chemical engineers?
How rapidly can organizations change? How rapidly must they change?
A written contribution for the presentation was not available for inclusion in this report of the workshop.
“A Study of the Status of Women Faculty in Science at MIT,” MIT Faculty Newsletter, March 1999. Available online at <http://web.mit.edu/fnl/women/women.html>. This article summarizes the findings of a 150-page unpublished report on the same subject prepared in 1994.
The reporters for this session were Frankie Wood-Black, Cecily C. Celby (Radcliffe Institute), W. Sue Shafer, Maria Burka, and Lou Ann Heimbrook. There was considerable discussion of myths that persist —often with negative consequences. Several speakers addressed the notion of rewards for institutions that make progress in hiring and promotion of women. Also discussed in this connection was the concept of a diversity quotient—a quantitative evaluation of an institution 's success—that would recognize positive accomplishments and simultaneously identify the failures. Several participants described the importance of women working together and networking. Lou Ann Heimbrook suggested that participants should bring up these issues to the board of directors of the American Chemical Society. Participants were urged to take follow-up action after the workshop, to “do something.” As articulated by Frankie Wood-Black, the message was, It's not OK to not try.