Issue Date: July 30, 2012
Cultivating Women Leaders In The Field Of Chemistry
Professional development workshops offered by the Committee on the Advancement of Women Chemists (COACh) have helped thousands of women scientists and engineers overcome workplace obstacles and advance in their professions.
COACh, which celebrates its 15th anniversary this year, is growing its online presence to broaden its reach. The program is also expanding into developing countries, where it is facilitating research and educational collaborations that help women scientists and engineers build intellectual and leadership capacity, says Geraldine L. (Geri) Richmond, professor of chemistry at the University of Oregon, Eugene. Richmond cofounded COACh in 1997 with Jeanne E. Pemberton, professor of chemistry at the University of Arizona, Tucson. The organization also benefits from an advisory board composed of 24 women from various academic institutions in the U.S. and abroad.
“What we’re trying to do is change the climate in our laboratories and our academic institutions by teaching the type of effective dialogue” that can lead to more satisfying and productive careers for women, Richmond says.
Topics covered in the program’s workshops include negotiation techniques, leadership skills, conflict resolution, and effective communication techniques.
“The biggest impact of the workshops has been giving women the skills and confidence to navigate the workplace,” says Jean Stockard, a sociologist at the University of Oregon who has been tracking the impact of COACh on women’s careers.
“What makes COACh really valuable is the shared set of experiences from the participants,” says COACh participant Mary Boyd, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of San Diego. Those experiences are “critical toward instantly building rapport and a community within the workshop participant group.”
The workshops are funded by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Energy. They are free to participants and typically are held at scientific conferences such as American Chemical Society national meetings and the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists & Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE) annual conference. Academic institutions and companies can also invite COACh to present on-site workshops to their faculty and staff.
Undergraduates, grad students, and postdocs can also benefit from the workshops. “I knew that going into the next phase of my life, it would be very important for me to be an efficient negotiator so that I don’t get shortchanged when it comes to negotiating for a lab and salary and so forth,” says Alecia M. McCall, a recent Ph.D. graduate from Louisiana State University. She attended the “Negotiation 101” workshop and is helping to organize COACh workshops at NOBCChE.
COACh offerings include workshops specifically designed for women of color. Men are also welcome to join the organization and participate in its activities.
The committee’s latest endeavor is COACh International (iCOACh), which fosters collaborations between women scientists in the U.S. and in developing countries. “This is a way to get those in the U.S. to view research and teaching with a more global perspective, while also connecting with smart and interesting scientists from different cultures,” Richmond says.
Barbara Tiedeu, a senior lecturer in the department of biochemistry at the University of Yaoundé I, in Cameroon, was among the 33 participants who attended the first COACh workshop in Cameroon in October 2011. She was able to apply some of the skills she learned in the workshop immediately.
After learning that her course load had been increased, she decided to do something about it. “Some of us found ourselves with a heavier workload than we thought was necessary,” she says. “As a result of the workshop, I had become more assertive and I knew now that I could ask, and that I could negotiate.” She did just that, and consequently, the department head reduced Tiedeu’s course load.
COACh is also expanding its reach online. Through Cyber COACh, the organization will offer virtual workshops and online mentoring forums. “It’s really about networking in a global sense,” says Richmond. “Research shows that the more connected you feel, the happier you are, and the more control you have in your life.”
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