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Photo of Joseph Bordogna

Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer
National Science Foundation

ADVANCE Principal Investigator Meeting

May 19, 2005

Good afternoon. I am delighted to welcome you once again to the National Science Foundation—and happier still to congratulate you on your fine efforts to build a science and engineering workforce that is both inclusive and diverse.

Each and every one of us here has a common goal—we all hope to advance the success of science and engineering by enabling our institutions to robustly welcome women and minorities through their gates and on to pathways of excitement and contribution. That has been a formidable challenge, but you are a formidable group! You have launched nineteen different experiments. Some in the early stages and others well underway at the institutions you represent. You have gathered here to share your knowledge about what works well, to learn from what has worked less well, and to map the next steps toward our shared goal.

Your willingness to experiment and to collaborate is extremely important for the success of ADVANCE, because getting the job done is by no means straightforward. Our world—like the science and engineering of our times—is increasingly complex and dynamic. The challenge of inclusiveness and diversity is no exception. Tackling wide-ranging issues of such complexity requires a multi-faceted approach—one from many perspectives and on many fronts. And it requires the collaborative efforts and dedication of many individuals. Indeed, the task is formidable, but so are you! You are the band of sisters and brothers, the pioneers whose work is not only clearing the path for others, but burnishing that path for accelerated movement.

The two reports that Harvard released this past Monday—the Report from the Task Force on Women in Science and Engineering and the Report of the Task force on Women Faculty—are a sign of your growing influence—and a signal to those who would ignore the need for change. Many of you were asked for advice by those compiling the reports as they considered recommendations for change at Harvard. That's an extraordinary tribute to your perseverance and achievements. You have made ADVANCE a community, a resource for universities, and a national asset. ADVANCE is the "Constitution" of inclusiveness and diversity, the fundamental statement that "Yes, we can and we will do this."

No one knows better than you that changing institutions is very difficult work, which is best done from within. Gary Hamel, the well-known management advisor, makes this point in the context of business. "Most large companies," he says, "have a change model that is essentially borrowed from poorly governed Third World dictatorships. The only way you can change them is with a coup."1

Like it or not, many universities display a similar characteristic—although the academic model is more anarchic than dictatorial. But you have shown that a revolution in academe can happen without a coup, one giant step at a time.

You have put in place the institutional indicators that allow universities to describe fully the status of women on campuses. You have elevated the role of faculty and professional development in creating a professoriate that is more engaged and better-informed about diversity. You have changed dramatically the dialogue about the factors that stymie women's advancement into the ranks of academic leadership. Family friendly environments, flexible career paths, and attention to creating community are now accepted as valuable elements of retention strategies. I could go on listing your accomplishments. Actually, a fairly good list of these is detailed in the report recommendations from Harvard!

I am not suggesting that ADVANCE can do everything. You are addressing problems with deep roots and broad branches. Gender is an emblem of larger issues that confront not only universities, but also our entire society.

As difficult as it may be to change institutions, it is harder still to change cultures and the habits of mind they perpetuate. This brings to mind a tale of levity and learning. A woman was walking down the street when she saw a man hit by a van. She rushed to help him. Just then, a man came charging up, shouting, "Move away, lady, I know first aid." "Oh?," she said. "And do you remember the rules?" "Yes, of course I do," he snapped. "Well," the woman said, "When you get to the rule about calling a doctor, I'm right here."

This story reminds us how much we observe—and have observed for decades—about bias and stereotyping simply in our everyday experiences. The late Congressional Representative Shirley Chisholm, famous for her spirit and vision, often spoke about the difficulties women face in their professional lives. "The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females," she said, "begins when the doctor says: 'It's a girl."

Thanks to research in the social sciences, however, we now understand that bias and stereotyping are pervasive in our society. We have designed the Human and Social Dynamics program at NSF to build on recent advances in the social sciences to lift and integrate them across all disciplines. We can use these new insights and the tools in ADVANCE to assist, document and analyze human and institutional change. Human and Social Dynamics provides an intellectual framework for understanding human behavior and how it shapes the outcomes of academic processes such as recruitment, retention, and promotion. Deeper knowledge of human and social behavior will help us design systems that take into account what we know about bias and how it warps human endeavor. It can also help us identify the structures and incentives that promote success and achievement.

I will conclude by thanking all of you in the ADVANCE community for your shared commitment to attract, retain and promote women in science and engineering. I thank you especially for taking on the risky and thorny responsibility of getting the job done.

The stakes are high. We know that a more inclusive and diverse workforce will enrich science and engineering because imagination and discovery thrive on varied talents.

We know that a narrow and impoverished view of talent is a national catastrophe at a time when America must count on every citizen to overcome tough competition. And we know that today's global challenges require an exceptional mobilization of science and engineering talent worldwide.

But in the end, we should never lose sight of the fundamental truth that fully empowering women and minorities is the right thing to do. Any institutional or social arrangement that hinders an individual's full expression of talent is a dead loss for humankind.

Talent runs deep in America, in broad streams of intellect, perspective, and culture. We possess tantalizing but untapped potential. You are the leaders who will transform that promise into reality. I know you will succeed.

1 Gary Hamel, as quoted by David Kirkpatrick in "Innovation Do's and Don'ts," Forbes Magazine, September 6, 2004; p.240.
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