Women & Science
National Science Foundation
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The material presented in this report constitutes a summary of the views and opinions of those who participated in the Women & Science conference.
In particular, the summaries of the various breakout sessions and the sidebars containing opinions of individual conference participants do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
Statement from the Deputy Director of the National Science Foundation
About the Conference and This Report
Disciplinary Breakout Sessions
Cross-Cutting Breakout Sessions
NSF Opportunities for Women and Girls
Additional Resources for Women in Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology
This report summarizes the discussions, ideas, and recommendations of the Women & Science: Celebrating Achievements, Charting Challenges conference. The purpose of the conference was to take stock of the achievements that women have made, assess what works best in the classroom and workplace, and chart a new course to address the challenges that remain.
The report makes the following seven recommendations:
The conference and report are a joint effort of the seven directorates of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Seven hundred women and men from colleges and universities, industry, nonprofit groups, schools, and community groups assembled in Washington, DC, on December 13-15, 1995, to take part in plenary sessions, breakout sessions, and a special showcase of posters and demonstrations.
The report summarizes each of the conference's 12 breakout sessions, which were organized around NSF disciplines and a set of cross-cutting themes in research and education.
The conference breakout sessions examined challenges of women and science and reflected on possible solutions; some tried and some new. Strategies for expanding gender diversity and opportunities for women at all educational levels and throughout the workforce were recommended. The summaries include a brief statistical report on the status of women in each field, findings and recommendations as viewed by the participants, one or more excerpts from the words of the conference participants on a particular discipline or issue, and views of NSF Assistant Directors about the issues concerning women in their respective fields. In addition, the report contains a section devoted to resources for women in science and engineering, excerpts of plenary speeches, and a listing of names and addresses of those who attended the conference.
NSF intends this report to serve several roles:
Anne C. Petersen
Science and engineering hold unprecedented sway in our personal lives, communities, and nation's future. Today, human beings must accommodate tremendous technological change in the course of a single life span, change that may have previously taken centuries to come about. At the same time, the threads of our national social fabric are left to sustain these changes, adapt, and hopefully seize on them as opportunities. But, while the pace of technological and scientific discovery moves forward, society's ability to transform itself has often lagged behind.
The National Science Foundation conference, Women & Science: Celebrating Achievements, Charting Challenges, brought together 700 women and men in December 1995 to celebrate what has been achieved. It was also designed to chart a new course for women to meet the challenges posed by and for science in the next century.
The conference focused on women and the sciences rather than women in the sciences for a deliberate reason: It needed to be made clear that equity and access for women and girls are not problems of women but problems of science and society. Any solutions we identify are going to require that men and women work together to find a better path for science as a social institution and a profession.
Let us talk for a moment about solutions. First, women's roles as conceived by society are embedded in the history of humankind. Their roots are in all professions, not just science and engineering. Change is and will be incremental and sometimes nonlinear in its progression from step A to B, onward. Second, no one organization, individual, or sector of the economy is to blame. Nor will any one organization, individual, or sector bring about a solution for the others.
However, the role of women in science and engineering has its own history and innate features rooted in the social value of science. Just as our economy has grown and changed as a result of increasing world competition, so too must science struggle to remain relevant to the national good. During the long postwar period, the value of science eluded relevance for most Americans. Priorities were instead determined largely by patterns of government resource allocation for research with a strong and perhaps necessary emphasis on national defense. Now we face a world where science and technology are keystones in global competition and must be measured in terms other than military prowess. The societal value placed on science and engineering has shifted and will continue to shift in ways that provide challenges and opportunities for all of science and engineering and the workforce.
American science has made great contributions to our nation and the world. It must continue to do that in ways that map with current pressures and future hopes. We have tremendous resources, foremost among them is our diversity as a nation and as a people. Diversity adds new ideas, perspectives, and ways of thinking to scientific discovery and its application. It also gives science and engineering new relevance to large portions of our population. The Women & Science conference ambitiously aimed to produce new ways to mine the national resource of diversity, in this case women, and to find solutions to some of the research and education problems we face today.
This report discusses the future of women and science in terms of the future of science, women, and trends and pressures of society. Recommendations are offered in a context that recognizes what women have achieved. But more importantly, they focus on what remains to be done and how to do those tasks in ways that reflect reality. They recognize the part that must be played by all individuals, organizations, and sectors of the economy.
At the conference, I listened carefully to the points that were made by the participants in the many plenary and breakout sessions. I listened not only for specific ideas but also for the norms and contexts that were subsumed by those ideas. After the conference, I combed through notes and transcripts. I believe that the following seven overarching recommendations accurately reflect the big picture of what was said.
To me, these recommendations are fundamental to the future of not just women and not just science but to the future of women and science. They recognize that all must play a part. Just as one example, every parent in this country and the world for that matter is a science and mathematics educator. By our actions we teach our daughters and sons how to look on the sciences, and those of us who are scientists determine how science looks on them. In short, there is a need for society to advance the role of women in science, but we would be remiss not to consider the necessity of women advancing science in our society.
This brings us naturally to the purpose of this report. The report is for us all as scientists and engineers, men and women, researchers and teachers, administrators and policymakers, and, most of all, learners. A major goal of the conference was to seek advice on how we at NSF can best address issues of women and science for the future. The conference was just the first step of many in that process. The report is the second step. I hope that you will find inspiration, strength, and ideas for your own communities and organizations.
To paraphrase from my speech at the conference: As we celebrate our achievements and begin to chart our future challenges, our potential role as leaders should be front and center in our thoughts. We who have climbed the steep slopes by clawing and hanging on should not demand this as initiation for those who follow. Rather, we need to provide a web of support, encouragement, and example. We must nurture, guide, and teach. We must reach down to girls and young women and show them a path paved with encouragement. And most of all, we must do this for the future of science and engineering and for the future of our society.
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