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Women in the Chemical Workforce: A WORKSHOP REPORT TO THE CHEMICAL SCIENCES ROUNDTABLE
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 Workforcein 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.