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Women Chemists Committee At 80: Thanks And A Challenge

by Amber Hinkle, Chair, Women Chemists Committee
March 5, 2007 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 85, Issue 10

Today, we can celebrate that women are truly seen as leaders in their own right.
Credit: Linda Wang/C&EN
Credit: Linda Wang/C&EN

In 1927, the ACS Women's Service Committee was established. In 1972, it became the Women Chemists Committee (WCC). The name changed but the mission remained the same. The committee's mission is to play a lead role in attracting, developing, and promoting women in the chemical sciences by increasing their participation in the sciences and related disciplines, advocating for pertinent issues, providing career development opportunities, and recognizing their professional accomplishments. For many individuals, this has been more than a mission; rather, it has been a vision actively pursued. For 80 years, it has taken courage, commitment, and a spirit of serving others to progress along this path. As committee chair, I am honored to be counted a leader in living this vision. To celebrate WCC's 80th anniversary, I would like to give thanks and issue a challenge.

Considerable progress has been made since 1927. Through efforts such as those of ACS and WCC, the scientific community has come to recognize the value of having contributions from both men and women as well as from diverse groups in general. This creative thinking, and its synergistic effect, is propelling science into the future. Today, we can celebrate that women are truly seen as leaders in their own right. An example of this leadership is the large number of women currently serving in ACS governance.

Thank you to the great women who have served passionately on WCC. Thank you to the insightful men who have realized that WCC's issues are their issues too. Thank you to the incredible women who have served in ACS governance and continue to lead the society forward. I believe the original members of the Women's Service Committee would applaud this progress but also say, "Don't stop now."

For progress to continue, we must all be concerned about the predicted shortage of skilled employees in the national scientific, technical, and engineering (ST&E) workforce of the future. If employment trends continue for women and other underrepresented groups, the U.S. will not be able to adequately fill this gap. For example, in 2000, women constituted approximately 50% of the overall U.S. workforce but only 25% of the scientific workforce. In 2006, top executives in science and technology companies admitted they are deeply concerned about this labor shortage and agreed that women and minorities are underrepresented in the chemical industry. Studies show that women at every level have opted out of furthering their education in the sciences at a greater rate than men. In addition, those women who do pursue careers in the sciences are more likely than their male counterparts to become dissatisfied and move out of the scientific realm. It is clear that additional steps need to be taken to encourage and retain women in the ST&E workforce.

Perhaps a contributing factor to women's dissatisfaction with scientific careers is the clear lack of parity in advancement opportunities. In 2004, only 12.4% of science faculty members at the top 50 federally funded universities were women. In 2006, only 10 of the chief executive officers of U.S. Fortune 500 companies were women.

The slower advancement of women in these areas may be partly the result of a lack of recognition for their valuable contributions. For example, the percentage of women receiving national ACS awards for excellence in science does not reflect the percentage of female ACS members. This is one situation, among many, that ACS and WCC are working to improve.

Similarly, many leaders in industry, academia, and the U.S. government are striving to understand how to encourage women into the ST&E arena and how to retain them there as well. Survey and study results published as recently as last year show that in both academia and industry the key areas of potential in this regard continue to be work climate, mentoring, recognition, and life balance.

Of course, the first step is to encourage young women to pursue scientific education in the first place; this step includes access to better resources and precollege preparation. It seems logical that improvements in all of these areas will benefit not only women in science but the ST&E labor force in general.

The WCC mission is still right in line with the needs of the scientific community and will continue to be a living vision. Due in part to this vision, ACS will continue to be instrumental in the progress of diversity in science. However, only a handful of ACS members actively participate in ACS initiatives. My challenge to you is to identify your passion and to volunteer. One individual can make a difference, and a group of individuals is even more effective. To prepare our nation for the future of science, each of us needs to do what we can at our local level. Thank you for your efforts.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of the committee.


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