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Are Women Still Underrepresented in Science?

by Ingrid Montes and Janet Bryant

The project “Are women still under-represented in science?” was initiated to support one of the main objectives of IYC 2011: the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry awarded to Mme Curie. Generously supported by the American Chemical Society (ACS) as one of its IYC 2011 Challenge Grants the goals of the project were as follows:

  • host a day-long symposium at the IUPAC World Chemistry Congress featuring internationally-prominent chemists speaking on the topic, “Are women still underrepresented in science?”
  • recognize the recipients of the “Distinguished Women in Chemistry/Chemical Engineering” award to acknowledge and promote the work of women chemists/chemical engineers worldwide
  • host a public performance of a play about Marie Curie at the Congress
  • publish web-based interviews with the Distinguished Chemists/Chemical Engineers

To achieve the first goal, a full day symposium “Are Women Still Underrepresented in Science?” was held on 2 August 2011 as part of the scientific program of the Congress. The symposium was well attended with approximately 200 attendees in the morning session and 100 during the afternoon.

Princess Chulabhorn Mahidol of Thailand
Lined up to shake hands with Princess Chulabhorn Mahidol of Thailand are Ingrid Montes (far right), Supawan Tantayanon (IUPAC Representative from Thailand), Bassam Shakhashiri (ACS President elect), and Nancy Jackson (ACS President).

The first speaker for the day was Nancy B. Jackson, president of the American Chemical Society 2011, whose talk was entitled “U.S. Women in the Chemical Enterprise—Trends, Issues, and Interventions.” Currently, the percentage of women receiving Bachelor’s degrees in chemistry is at parity with their representation in the general population. However, the statistics for graduate enrollment, graduate degrees awarded, and employment show a different trend; due to inadequate retention, women are still underrepresented in chemistry in the USA. She also provided a historical look at the progress of women in the chemical enterprise in the USA, explored persistent issues and possible causes for their underrepresentation, and highlighted effective interventions.

A special touch to this symposium was the participation of Her Royal Highness Princess Chulabhorn Mahidol of Thailand as one of the speakers. Her talk on “Journey of a Female Thai Chemist” emphasized that all available data show that in almost all women are still underrepresented in science. This has been the case throughout history and, although this situation may be changing, the change is slow. Examples of successful women scientists are rare due to lack of opportunity and encouragement rather than lack of ability and dedication. In the USA, less than 12 percent of women work in science, technology, engineering, or math. Princess Mahidol stated that she firmly believes that a strong role model is one of the keys to breaking the traditional and still current educational, social, and career factors that fail to encourage women to develop the interest and will to succeed in science, even when they clearly demonstrate the ability to do so. Her chemical research at Chulabhorn Research Institute are conducted in the Laboratory of Natural Products, Laboratory of Medicinal Chemistry, and Laboratory of Organic Synthesis. Apart from research, she also oversees international programs (e.g., the Asian Core Program: Cutting Edge in Organic Chemistry, which involves eight Asian countries, and the Thailand Research Experience for Undergraduates sponsored by the National Science Foundation).

Participants in the symposium “Are Women Still Under-Represented in Science?”

Another speaker was Izabela Nowak from Poland, whose talk “Gender Issues in Poland: Facing the 21st Century Science” affirmed that although women have made gains, stereotypes and cultural biases still impede their success in science, technology, engineering, and math. In particular, she pointed out, the share of Polish women among researchers (25 percent) in the business sector is very low among European Union countries. In Poland, the gap between men and women in engineering and technology R&D is higher than the EU average. The gender imbalance between men and women in decision-making positions is also striking she said. On average, only 32 percent of managers in Polish enterprises are women. By contrast, in the government and higher-education sectors, approximately one researcher in two (43 percent in 2009) is a woman; however, only 22 percent of professors are female. Additionally, among 193 actual members of the Polish Academy of Sciences in 2010 there were only 6 women. Women are the heads of only seven of 76 research institutes. Last, but not least, Nowak stated that the percentage of women graduates in science and technology in Poland is above the EU average. In the past 30 years, the number of men and women receiving a doctoral degree has equaled (in 2007, 49 percent of those obtaining a doctoral degree were women). However, still far fewer women than men obtain post-doctoral degrees (32 percent).

To close the morning session, Vanderlan Bolzani from Brazil presented her talk entitled “Woman in the Development of Brazilian Chemistry Science, and Its Contribution for the Advances on Natural Products.” She indicated that since the dawn of civilization, women all over the world have participated in the unraveling of the secrets of nature and contributed to science in several important discoveries, despite many barriers. The history of science in Brazil is relatively recent when compared to other countries, but their scientific community has been growing steadily in the last 50 years. According to recent statistics from the last National Research Council, of all researchers registered in Brazil, 22 797 are women, which represents 49 percent of the total.

According to Bolzania, there has been a substantial increase in the participation of women researchers in Brazil in strategic fields such as bioenergy, medicinal chemistry, environment, materials, and natural products. However, she said, there has not been a corresponding increase in the percentage of women leading research teams (only 28 percent are research leaders).

Nicole Moreau, president of IUPAC, started the afternoon session with her talk “Women in Science and in Chemistry, with Emphasis on Europe and France.” She noted that in the so-called “grandes ecoles” in chemistry in France, there are as many, if not more, girls as boys. So, she asked, is it true that after their studies they disappear from the chemistry scene? And if it is true, how can we explain this situation? She discussed possible explanations, including the obstacles girls will/could encounter when pursuing scientific careers, and how much of the problem is due to themselves, and who or what keeps them from being successful. Moreau also discussed the way women in the academic world respond to various situations as compared to their male colleagues. She also compared women’s careers in science with other domains, such as politics and management.

Natalia Tarasova, from Russia, presented a talk on “Women’s Careers in Chemistry: Education, Science, and Business. The Russian Example.” She indicated that the goals of sustainable development require the elaboration of the strategies that can guarantee real gender equality for women on the local national, regional, and global scale. According to Russian sociological surveys, existing gender stereotypes are the main obstacle for career development of women. Tarasova then gave an overview of women in chemistry today: 40 percent of female graduates leave chemistry, 20 percent continue their career in areas that are related to chemistry, and only 30 percent are directly involved in chemistry or chemical technology. In 2010, women accounted for 49 percent of chemistry students, 47 percent of Ph.D. students, and 33 percent of doctorate students (the highest academic degree in the Russian system). Meanwhile, in the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Branch of Chemistry and Material Science, fewer than 2 percent are women.

From left: Nancy Jackson (ACS President), Ada Yonath (Nobel laureate 2009), and Janet Bryant.

“Women in the Chemical Industry,” the talk by Carolyn Ribes of The Netherlands, described the business case for diversity: data show that companies with women on their senior leadership teams have better financial results, including return on equity and higher stock prices. She estimated that 10 percent of members of the Board of Directors at the largest global chemical companies are women. Women have a strong presence at entry levels but do not move into middle and senior positions at the same rate as men. The competing demands of work and home affect career decisions, especially for mid-career women. As a result, women may choose to make horizontal career moves into positions that are more family friendly with fewer demands that they be available “anytime/anywhere.” Ribes noted that many companies have implemented policies and programs to simplify work/life balance and to drive diversity and inclusion.

Ayse Zehra Aroguz of Turkey, in her talk “The Profile of Women in Science and Chemistry in Turkey,” described how women’s struggle for equality in Turkey has led to the situation today in which there are more women scientists in chemistry than men.

The symposium wrapped up with an anthropologist and a vice president of UNESCO’s Committee on the Ethics of Science, Hebe Vessuri from Venezuela, who presented her talk “Opportunity and Temperament. From Context to Realization in the Gender Domain.” Vessuri discussed the demographics of women scientists in Venezuela and then looked at several case studies of women scientists from Venezuela as narrated by them. Vessuri also explained why and how those women became interested in science and what might follow from their particular experiences. Adopting a sociological understanding of the way that values are interpreted she gave an analytically consistent account of the case studies and showed the rich variation in the interplay between temperament and opportunity.

The symposium was followed by a public event at the Congress: a reenactment of parts of Marie Curie’s life by professional actress Susan M. Frontczak. The play was open to the public and was very well attended by participants of the Congress.

Another goal of this project was to acknowledge and promote the work of women chemists/chemical engineers worldwide by recognizing them with a special award. On 2 August, the following 23 women were recognized as “Distinguished Women in Chemistry/Chemical Engineering” in a formal ceremony:

  • Nouria A. Al-Awadi, Kuwait
  • Faizah Mohammed Abdel Mohsin Al-Kharafi, Kuwait
  • Ayse Aroguz, Turkey
  • Vanderlan Bolzani, Brazil
  • Novella Bridges, USA
  • Luisa De Cola-Germany, Germany
  • Joanna Fowler, USA
  • Véronique Gouverneur, UK
  • Magdolna Hargittai, Hungary
  • Nancy B. Jackson, USA
  • Susan M. Kauzlarich, USA
  • Katharina Kohse-Höinghaus, Germany
  • H.R.H. Princess Chulabhorn Mahidol, Thailand
  • Nicole J. Moreau, France
  • Linda F. Nazar, Canada
  • Izabela Nowak, Poland
  • Carolyn Ribes, Netherlands
  • Sara Snogerup Linse, Sweden
  • Yoshie Souma, Japan
  • Natalia Tarasova, Russia
  • Klára Tóth, Hungary
  • Lesley J. Yellowlees, UK
  • Ada E. Yonath, Israel

A brochure about the 23 women who were honored was included in the registration package for Congress participants. In addition, posters about each woman were exhibited in a public area during the Congress. The Embassy of Poland joined the tribute to women in chemistry by sending its special exhibition of Marie Curie designed for the International year of Chemistry.

The award presentation was followed by a reception in honor of the recipients, hosted by IYC 2011 Partner Dow Chemical Latin America.

The project was led by Principal Investigator Ingrid Montes of the University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras and co-organizer Janet Bryant of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.


Fonte: Chemistry International - IUPAC

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