SUCCESS STRATEGIES FOR WOMEN IN CHEMISTRY | February 16, 2004 Issue - Vol. 82 Issue 7 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 82 Issue 7 | p. 79 | ACS Comments
Issue Date: February 16, 2004

SUCCESS STRATEGIES FOR WOMEN IN CHEMISTRY

By HELEN M. FREE
Department: ACS News

The 2004–06 ACS strategic plan makes a bold claim: "ACS will work to create a more diverse chemical enterprise workforce. It will provide and promote a portfolio of programs, products, and services valued by all members--including women, underrepresented minorities, and persons with disabilities--to increase their participation and leadership in the chemical community."

As with all lofty goals, the challenge is to find specific, practical steps that will help move us in the direction of the goal. Recognizing this, the ACS Board in 2001 established ACS PROGRESS--a three-year pilot project to test, develop, and evaluate programs that promote the full participation and advancement of women chemists and chemical engineers (C&EN, Nov. 24, 2003, page 28). One important aspect of the PROGRESS plan is to highlight and publicize strategies and best practices that help women succeed and advance in chemistry.

Here, then, is a short list of strategies that work for women (and men, too). Put these seven strategies together, and they'll help you build a career as a chemist.

Communication, leadership, and negotiation skills: Develop them. For women in academe, COACh (Committee on the Advancement of Women Chemists, http://coach.uoregon.edu) offers workshops at ACS and American Institute of Chemical Engineers national meetings to coach women in negotiation, management, and leadership. For women in industry, ACS PROGRESS offers members the opportunity for subsidized participation in "Leadership Principles for R&D Managers and Scientists," an ACS webcast short course. For women in government, most agencies offer leadership and executive training (see http://www.govleaders.org).

High visibility and stretch assignments: Seek them out. Successful women scientists stress the importance of finding and meeting these types of challenges. These assignments involve being assertive and taking risks--character traits that require women to make an extra effort to step outside their comfort zone. (See http://www. hunter.cuny.edu/gendertutorial for National Science Foundation-supported research on "Gender Schemas and Science Careers.")

Making presentations at meetings and conferences provides a good way to be visible. In industry, the stretch assignments that catalyze career advancement can involve a move between functional areas, across product lines, or overseas.

Equilibrium: Find a work-life balance that works for you. A major challenge for all chemists is to find a healthy balance in the complex mix of work, family, and life responsibilities. The challenge is especially hard for those with children. Here are some tips from some successful, and balanced, women chemists:

  • ◾ Realize that there is no one right answer.
  • ◾ Seek advice, information, role models, and wisdom through your networks.
  • ◾ Find firms, agencies, and academic institutions that are family friendly.

Mentors and networks: Build bonds with others. According to a recent Catalyst study (Women Scientists in Industry, see http://www.catalystwomen.org), mentoring and networking are two of the most critical aspects of career success. These strategies can help you: exchange information, build valuable job contacts and gain visibility, learn the culture and politics of an organization, and develop communication and leadership skills.

Most networks in industry are internal networks, allowing members to exchange proprietary information, find mentors, and work together to achieve corporate goals. In academe and government, look for WISE (Women in Science & Engineering) networking groups or for local chapters of AWIS (Association for Women in Science, http://www.awis.org). The ACS Women Chemists Committee (http://membership. acs.org/W/WCC) provides a great forum for building bonds at the national, regional, and local levels.

Information, data, and resources: Find them and use them. As a chemist, you know the importance of searching the literature to become familiar with existing data, theories, and technologies. Do the same thing for your career. Explore the ACS website (http://chemistry.org), which offers a wealth of information on career, salary, job-search, and professional issues. Spend some time also checking out other organizations and websites.

Style: Develop a style that works for you and your organization. Within any organization, there are unwritten rules and expectations that guide everything from appropriate humor to clothing fashion. Women chemists, who often find themselves in environments where the male majority sets the style, will increase their chances for success when they match their personal style with the organizational style.

Former Catalyst president Sheila Wellington, in her book "Be Your Own Mentor," offers this advice on developing a successful style:

  • ◾ Make others comfortable.
  • ◾ Get past other people's assumptions.
  • ◾ Radiate confidence.
  • ◾ Learn the art of the humorous comeback.
  • ◾ Be seen as a team player.
  • ◾ Focus on producing results for the organization.
  • ◾ Pick your battles carefully.

Technical expertise: Develop and nurture it. Successful women scientists report that one of the keys to their success is "cultivating a technical expertise." Starting with a solid educational background, these women keep current on the latest developments in science and technology (check out the PROGRESS GROW Grants, which provide funding to women to take professional training courses), and they consistently exceed expectations. As they develop a clear technical niche, they provide value to their company, agency, or department, and they counter any potential backlash and resentment from male colleagues.

These seven strategies can provide the building blocks for a successful career in chemistry. ACS, through its existing programs and the pilot programs of ACS PROGRESS (for more information, see http://chemistry.org/progress), offers abundant opportunities to implement these strategies.

You'll help advance your own career. And you'll help ACS achieve one of its goals--a future in which women participate fully in the chemical sciences.

 
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