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3.1 Chemical Sciences1

Robert Lichter
Merrimack Consultants, LLC

Lichter first thanked his colleagues for their contributions, including Willie Pearson, Jr., Janet Bryant, Lisa J. Borello, and other individuals who were not present but who had contributed to the presentation.

Lichter began his presentation with a motivating argument as to why women in the chemical sciences warranted focused attention. The progress of women in the field lags behind men worldwide with respect to pay, promotion, and advancement to positions of leadership—a critical driver of change. The chemical sciences are often embedded in other disciplines and work settings, and are a key component of a country’s ability to maintain global competitiveness. In spite of the highly competitive nature of the field, significant fractions of the population should not be excluded as a potential workforce. Thus, recruitment, retention, and advancement of women in the chemical sciences are critical to all nations.

Robust and reliable data exist for participation of women in chemical sciences in a variety of countries, which are essential for understanding the slow progress of women in the chemical sciences via cross-national and cross-cultural comparisons. Such data are especially critical for creating policies that can advance women in the chemical sciences and, ultimately, to positions of leadership.

Lichter presented data on the percentage of degrees earned by women at the undergraduate and doctoral levels in Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These data showed no significant differences among the three countries: women earned 40-50 percent of the undergraduate degrees and approximately 40 percent of the doctoral degrees. However, looking at women faculty, the percentages dropped to 11 and 12 percent for Germany and the United Kingdom, respectively.

Lichter offered survey data on the career plans of 650 female and male doctoral students in their first and third years of graduate studies (Table 3-1). The results showed that male students’ career aspirations were reinforced as they progressed through their studies, so that the percentage of men planning to pursue a career in chemistry increased from 73 to 86 percent between their first and third years, while a substantial drop occurred among women planning careers in chemical sciences, from 85 to 79 percent.

When comparing planned careers in academia or research careers in the chemical sciences, both men and women showed decreased interest in these career paths between their first and third years. The largest drop, from 72 to 37 percent, was observed for women planning research careers, while the drop for men was only 61 to 59 percent.


1 See Appendix E-5 for the full paper.

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