Where are the women? | September 11, 2017 Issue - Vol. 95 Issue 36 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 95 Issue 36 | p. 2 | Editor's Page
Issue Date: September 11, 2017

Where are the women?

Department: Editor's Page
Keywords: Opinion, diversity

If you are not interested in what has and is happening to women in the chemical sciences, you can turn away now. This editorial is all about women: women serving as directors on corporate boards or as top executives in the chemical industry, women who did not win a Nobel Prize but should have, and women who are—sadly—lacking in the medicinal chemistry field.

It’s the time of year when we publish our regular feature about representation of women in leadership roles in the chemical industry. For more than a decade now, C&EN has been tracking the number of women occupying positions on boards of directors or serving in executive positions at chemical companies. Over the more-than-10-year period, the numbers have been steadily increasing, but the pace of growth is certainly disappointing. A decade ago, C&EN’s survey found only 12.0% of directors and 9.2% of executive officers of U.S. chemical companies were women, compared to 18.6% and 13.7%, respectively, in 2017. It’s obvious that gender equity in corporate leadership roles still remains a distant dream. Saying that, this year is the first that the number of “women in business roles exceeded that of women heading human resources,” which signals a shift in the types of responsibilities women are now assuming. Turn to page 16 to read our analysis.

In this issue, we also look at 13 deserving women who didn’t receive a Nobel Prize (see page 22). This feature captures the essence of the discussions at a symposium held last month at the ACS national meeting in Washington, D.C. Titled “Ladies in Waiting for Nobel Prizes: Overlooked Accomplishments of Women Chemists,” the session highlighted the life and work of female scientists who in the opinion of the symposium speakers were worthy of that recognition. Regardless of whether one agrees with their choices (let us know yours), the fact remains that in Nobel history only four women have won the chemistry prize. That is four women—Marie Curie and her daughter Irène Joliot-Curie, Dorothy Hodgkin, and Ada E. Yonath—out of a total of 175 chemistry Nobel winners. This should give the scientific community food for thought.

Finally, I’d like to mention a related Viewpoint that was recently published in ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters. The opinion piece focuses on the medicinal chemistry field and reviews a series of measures that track women’s participation in that area of science to reveal that the proportion of women is indeed less than 20%. Granted, information in relation to employment in the field is difficult to come by, and the parameters they used—membership in medicinal chemistry societies and organizations, corresponding authorship of medicinal chemistry publications, and representation in professional leadership positions—have limitations, but the results ultimately demonstrate a trend that suggests an 80:20 man-to-woman differential.

When it comes to investigating the reasons for the disproportionately low percentage of women in careers in medicinal chemistry, the authors’ analysis is unsurprising. Despite the appeal and benefits that a career in medicinal chemistry may have for many, the authors conclude that the lack of women means there are few role models to emulate, leaving them to feel like outsiders. This situation creates a self-perpetuating pattern that is not as supportive of women as it could and should be.

So, to answer the question “Where Are All the Women?”—the title of the Viewpoint—I’d like to leave you with a quote by medical physicist Rosalyn Yalow, winner of the 1977 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine: “The world cannot afford the loss of the talents of half its people if we are to solve the many problems which beset us.”

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

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