The committee's statement explicitly addressed, albeit very briefly, the changing role of women in society—as a result of modern technology, which provided a release from domestic drudgery and, as a result of earlier marriage, which advanced the time at which women could make substantial commitments outside the home. The committee at that time concluded that "women constitute an enormous potential resource for research, scholarship, and teaching" and called for "conscious efforts to assist women to make the contributions of which they are capable."
As I read that now, through the lens of 1991, I note the presumption that married women should stay home, and I note the reference to those contributions "of which they are capable" and wonder exactly what the committee meant. Expectations are broader now. Since 1959, we have come a very long way in developing talent generally and in developing science and engineering talent specifically. We have also made strong progress in educating more of our population, especially women. Now, in 1991, it is nevertheless sobering to look back at the aspirations that were expressed at that time and to realize how much those ideals have been imperfectly executed. The task of tapping fully the potential of the talents of our population is far from complete. Indeed, in some ways we seem to be losing ground. Furthermore, for various reasons, the stakes are higher now and the urgency is much more acute.
Our progress has been seriously slowed by a number of factors but perhaps by none as inhibiting as the cultural beliefs and traditions that have circumscribed the expectations that we have for the roles and contributions of a substantial part of our population, namely women and minorities. Biases regarding gender, race, ethnicity, and class have interfered with our pursuit of our expressed ideals. Although we are a nation of immigrants, we have learned very imperfectly how to understand, how to value, and how to benefit from our differences.
Now, as we approach a new century and take a new look, we must renew our efforts to develop our human resources to their fun potential and to engage that rich array of talent in the pursuit of larger common purposes, to pursue a better life for all of the people in this nation and in the world. Recruitment and retention of talent in the sciences and engineering are an important part of the larger challenge of broad and full development of human potential. Our society has high requirements for talent and creativity