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Students and Scientists Hear a Hopeful Message at Women and Minorities Forum
ST. LOUIS — They came from Seoul and Washington and St. Louis, they work in business, academia and government, but each of the women had a similar message: An evolving science and technology culture is more willing than ever to embrace diversity, and opportunities for today’s students and minority and women professionals are better than ever.
But while there’s cause for optimism, a panel of experts at a AAAS networking event cautioned that the culture of inclusion must be advanced further in the next generation, both for the well-being of women and minorities and to achieve maximum innovative power in S&T fields worldwide. And, they said, remedial efforts are needed in many developing countries, where women are still often lacking in education and opportunity.
Ultimately, opportunities and success for women and minorities means greater strength for everyone, said Shirley Ann Jackson the chair of the AAAS Board of Directors and president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York.
“This is about the opportunity for all people to do what their talents lead them to do,” Jackson told the audience. “It is in all of our joining together that we actually make progress.”
“It is not what science can do for women,” added Johanna M.H. Levelt Sengers, scientist emeritus at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. “It’s what women can do for science.”
More than 100 students, young scientists and engineers, and established professionals gathered for the Women and Minorities in Science Networking Breakfast. The event was organized by the Education and Human Resources Division at AAAS and the association’s Minority Women in Science, a national networking group that seeks to facilitate access to career information and educational opportunities. Contributions from Merck and Monsanto helped to underwrite the forum.
Doe-Sun Na, the first woman to head the Korean Science Foundation said her organization has an ambitious campaign to sponsor science events that will introduce children — both girls and boys — to science and technology. But despite progress in the past generation, she said, women in South Korea still lack the opportunities available to men.
Women in the nation are smart, they do well in school, but only 55 percent of them have full-time jobs. “The other 45 percent go home and stay home. So the situation is bad,” Na said. “It’s the culture — it’s not their ability, it’s not their education.”
Sengers co-chairs the “Women in Science” panel for the InterAcademy Council, and expects to release a report later this year that will advise the world’s science academies on attracting, retaining and promoting women worldwide. In the U.S., she said, women remain under-represented in a S&T fields such as physics and engineering; in those fields and others long dominated by men, women often feel marginalized and rates of early-career drop-out are high.
In the early years of her corporate career, Sheila Schuette said, the workplace wasn't always welcoming for women. Today, she is an executive at Monsanto, and she says that with the passage of time, corporate cultures have evolved to become much more accepting.
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“I think a business case can be made for diversity,” she said. “I think more and more companies are realizing this.
The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) is engaged with many diversity-related efforts, said Jolene Kay Jesse, program director for the NSF’s Research on Gender in Science Engineering Program. But Jesse encouraged aspiring scientists and engineers to take their careers into their own hands by networking and getting involved with a mentor. Schuette and Shirley Malcom, the emcee of the event and head of Education and Human Resources at AAAS, agreed.
“You need to take responsibility for your own career,” Schuette told the students and young professionals. “You don’t need to wait for anyone. When you go back to your home cities, think about networking outside of events like this breakfast. Networking is something that you should be doing every day. You’re going to learn from everyone, you’re going to appreciate diversity.”
When Schuette finished her talk, Malcom took the stage. “I hope you realize,” she said, “that you just heard a really important message.”
Edward W. Lempinen
19 February 2006