Alexander Tullo is poignant in analyzing the evolution of the number of women executives in industry over the years, especially looking at the statistics for the year 2004 (C&EN, Aug. 9, page 18).
I was not surprised to see that--and I have to use a cliché here--women are still conspicuous by their absence in the higher ranks of industry's leadership. It is logical that in an environment where there is no pool of female engineers, chemists, scientists, et cetera, to select from, there cannot be a significant number of female leaders.
In technical or managerial meetings I attended in the past, one would find roughly one female for every 10 males in a room. This contrasts strongly with the ratio of female to male students in our universities' engineering and science departments. Females are becoming the majority in these departments.
During the past two years, I interviewed for process development jobs with three large companies in the chemical industry. I equipped myself with all the professional enthusiasm, knowledge, and technical creativity that I am proud to possess. While interviewing, a question started to haunt me: "Where are the women from the conference rooms, manufacturing floors, labs, or pilot stations in these companies?" I saw only a few of them and didn't hear any of them, as all the members of the technical interviewing committees, from all three companies, were men.
Stephanie Burns's words ("the quote of the week") could be paraphrased, in my opinion, to reflect the reality of a female's position in today's industry, as perceived by an engineer/scientist such as myself: "I am a natural multitasker, protector, nurturer, leader, and facilitator of win-win solutions. I am an excellent engineer and scientist. Please make abstraction of the fact that I am a woman."
Pattern recognition is one of the main mechanisms applied to hiring in industry, as well as anywhere else. One recognizes--and hires--people with the same technical/professional background, coming from the same alma mater, speaking the same scientific language, et cetera. Why would gender be the exception to this list of features used by the average hiring manager in choosing the optimal candidate? I am afraid that in industries where men are the majority of the executives and hiring managers, women will not be seen as optimal candidates for years to come.
With no pool of females to choose from inside the companies to serve on the boards or as executive officers, the balance of the sexes, in my opinion, will be more disproportional in the future. Such pools won't be created unless a clean-room-like suit, with a voice modifier, replaces the traditional interview suit. In that case, gender will no longer be a differentiating criterion in the pattern-recognition-based hiring process. But where is the woman to design and implement such an interview suit?
The birth of birth control
I admire the chemist Carl Djerassi, and might feel the same about the author and playwright were I able to read or watch his works. However, I find that calling him the father of the birth control pill, as is so often done, is a bit bizarre, even though he was the first synthesizer of the compound (C&EN, July 19, page 33). The pill was not his work but the work of the people who actually conceived of and determined its contraceptive action and showed by clinical trials that it was active and useful in humans--and who did all this against considerable opposition. They are John Rock of Boston Children's Clinic; Gregory Pincus of Worchester Foundation for Experimental Biology, for whom I worked many years ago; and G.D. Searle Co., which provided much of the funding.
There are many chemists who have synthesized complex molecules, and they should be well praised for their efforts, but those who conceived of the usefulness of a molecule and by long, hard work brought it to market fruition should not be relegated to also-rans.
La Paz, Mexico
ATTENTION, MIDCAREER CHEMISTS
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