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How the Women Chemists Committee stays relevant after 90 years

by Kimberly Woznack, Chair, ACS Women Chemists Committee
June 23, 2018 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 96, ISSUE 26

 

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Credit: California University of Pennsylvania
Woznack

The question of if the American Chemical Society still needs the Women Chemists Committee (WCC) is one that WCC considered in 2017, while we celebrated our 90th anniversary and updated our strategic plan. It was clear to WCC that although many positive changes have occurred in the past 90 years, there are still many more goals to be achieved.

Current global events and the climate for women in the U.S. and around the world should reassure even the most skeptical critic that gender equity has not yet been achieved either inside or outside the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. To achieve the WCC vision of “Empowering women throughout the chemical enterprise,” the committee has adopted an updated mission statement and goals. WCC’s updated goals are to increase engagement and retention of women, advocate and educate within the society on issues of importance to women, enhance leadership and career development opportunities for women, and highlight contributions of women.

WCC has programs, events, and initiatives that are too numerous to list here targeting these four goals. I will focus here on two of the most timely WCC efforts: advocating and educating about gender and sexual harassment in chemistry, and retaining women in the chemical enterprise by highlighting stories of chemists balancing motherhood and academic careers.

Some chemists like to think that scientists are objective people driven by data and are less prone to discrimination and subjective judgments. This is unfortunately not the case, and scientists can exhibit both implicit, and in some cases explicit, biases. When survivors of pervasive sexual harassment shared testimony in the C&EN cover story from Sept. 18, 2017, it was obvious that sexual harassment of chemists does take place within both academic and industrial institutions. C&EN reporters Linda Wang and Andrea Widener conducted extensive research to obtain the perspectives from survivors of sexual harassment, who shared powerful statements in the story.

This cover story catalyzed further events to raise awareness of the topic. On Feb. 15, Wang and Widener moderated a webinar on sexual harassment in the sciences, featuring anthropologist Kathryn Clancy of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Clancy made it clear that the most common forms of sexual harassment are sexual hostility and crude behavior. These actions constitute gender and sexual harassment.

WCC was eager to collaborate with C&EN on the “Science of Sexual Harassment” symposium at the spring 2018 ACS national meeting in New Orleans. Sexual harassment survivors Sanda Sun and Maria Dulay shared their stories with a room filled beyond seating capacity, and many chemists in the audience were moved to tears. The severe impact of harassment on the survivors’ physical health, mental health, and professional careers is undeniable.

The symposium also featured social scientists and scientists who spoke about the whys and hows of sexual harassment, as well as programs and approaches designed to combat sexual harassment.

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WCC is committed to equipping chemists with skills to recognize and confront gender and sexual harassment and continuing the dialogue. Every chemist can play a part in stopping gender and sexual harassment by identifying everyday sexism in the workplace, pointing out inappropriate jokes or comments, and starting a conversation about this behavior.

In addition to this advocacy effort, another effort that WCC is focusing on is highlighting the contributions of chemistry professors who are mothers. While the number of female faculty members with children is increasing slowly, the limited number of accessible role models may lead undergraduates, graduate students, and postdocs to perceive an academic career as incompatible with having children.

This summer, publisher Springer Nature will be releasing the second edition of “Mom the Chemistry Professor: Personal Accounts and Advice from Chemistry Professors Who Are Mothers,” an official project of WCC. This collection of essays includes contributions from 40 authors from a variety of backgrounds who have become mothers through either birth or adoption.

Gender equity has not yet been achieved either inside or outside the STEM fields.

At the fall ACS national meeting in Boston, WCC will be sponsoring a full-day symposium on Aug. 21 featuring contributing authors of the book. If you are a chemist considering a career in academia or if you have concerns about finding work-life balance, please attend the symposium or the WCC Just Cocktails event in Boston.

If you are a chemist who is interested in supporting and advocating for women chemists, join your local section WCC, or start a group if there isn’t one already in place. You can also participate in WCC-hosted events at national and regional meetings. Finally, consider joining the Women Chemists Subdivision of the Division of Professional Relations.

For more information about WCC, visit our website, www.womenchemists.sites.acs.org, or contact wcc@acs.org. Find WCC on social media using the hashtag #ACSWCC.

Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.

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