Wednesday, March 9, 2011

American Women in Science

Today's guest blogger, Alice Popejoy - a public policy fellow at the Association for Women in Science (AWIS), shares details of her experience on International Women's Day.

Around the world, International Women’s Day unites people by reflecting on their unique history in the continuing challenge of achieving gender equity. For women’s organizations in Washington, D.C. it is the busiest day of the year, as we come together to reflect, celebrate and collaborate.

At AWIS National*, we began the day with our President Dr. Joan Herbers at the State Department, where she moderated a bi-national webcast featuring EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Assistant Secretary of State Kerri-Ann Jones, and esteemed scientists from Jakarta, Indonesia to highlight the role of strong science in policy making around the world and to encourage female participation. Before the event finished, I was cabbing it over to Rayburn House Office Building to attend Rep. Donna Edward’s event “Blast Off! Encouraging Our Brightest Stars to Enter and Stay in STEM Fields,” which highlighted the importance of our nation’s diverse talent to be reflected in STEM fields if we are to maintain global competitiveness in innovation.

International Women’s Day infused with excitement about STEM on the Hill is a peak of opportunity for my AWIS agenda, educating policy makers about the barriers to success for women in STEM fields, and advocating for institutional changes that will encourage the full participation of underrepresented groups in the workplace.

But our audience is not always so receptive. In America, we have laws like Title IX that protect women from overt discrimination so it is difficult for some policy makers to understand why there is a need for bills like Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson’s “Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering” (H.R. 889) which promotes gender bias workshops and other policy recommendations. Although I have never experienced overt discrimination, as a young scientist, I have felt isolated, sexualized, and subtly written-off as less capable than my male classmates for being a woman. Thus, my agenda is personally, as well as professionally motivated.

While the legal status of gender discrimination has changed, the reality remains frighteningly similar to past decades. Women are still paid less, receive smaller grants, are provided fewer resources, and have less lab space on average compared to their male counterparts. Women also are less likely to become full and tenured professors, faculty department chairs, and to receive awards for their scholarly research than their male colleagues.

Given that 50% of America’s potential for innovation is female and only 24% of the STEM workforce are women, it is an unfortunate and foolish underutilization of our national resources. Raising awareness about gender bias, making the STEM workplace more family-responsive, and educating lawmakers are just a few of the solutions AWIS continues to promote.

For more information about AWIS and getting involved in advocating for the full participation of women and underrepresented groups in STEM fields, visit or follow AWIS on Twitter @AWISnational.

Alice Popejoy is a graduate of Hamilton College with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and French.We thank her for taking the time to share her experience in science advocacy and wish her the best of luck as she strives to pursue her own PhD in the biological sciences.

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1 comment:

  1. I was in Indonesia a few years back on a Fulbright and was pleasantly surprised to see a fair number of female faculty in the marine sciences, as well as a female dean at Sultan Hassanuddin University in Makassar (Sulawesi) which was my home base.