Women in Science: Examining
Opportunities and Barriers
By Dorothy Wright
Science and technology have
taken quantum leaps over the last few decades,
yet the progress of women in science has not kept
Nancy J. Vickers and U.S. Rep.
Connie Morella (Md.)
Bryn Mawrs recent Women
in Science Symposium shed light on opportunities
and barriers and recommended actions to drive
advancement both individually and collectively.
More than 120 Bryn Mawr College alumnae, members
of the Association of Women in Science (AWIS),
educators, public policy makers, and corporate
science researchers and managers participated
in the two-day symposium, which was co-sponsored
by the Colleges Center for Science in Society.
(Please see the sidebar on page X for a list of
"It has always been the
mission of the College to challenge young women
in all fields of study," said President Nancy
J. Vickers in welcoming participants. "Although
I am a scholar of the humanities, it is clear
to me that in todays world, Bryn Mawr and
other womens colleges are making truly distinctive
contributions the sciences and mathematics."
In her opening remarks, Jill
Sideman, M.A.63, Ph.D. 65, director
and vice president of CH2M HILL, Oakland, Calif.,
noted that barriers remain for women in science.
"We are here because this issue, although
it has been discussed and measured for at least
the last 20 years, is still not solved. It is
still not changing as rapidly as it needs to change."
She exhorted participants to think about what
they might do to contribute to change.
Putting Issues in Context
In the opening panel discussion,
representatives of pre-university education, university
teaching and research, traditional and new-economy
industry, and government science research examined
the status of women in these diverse fields. They
uncovered many common experiences, which provided
a context for the working sessions.
Moderated by Catherine
Didion, executive director of AWIS, Wasington,
D.C., the panel identified and reflected on several
key needs. Anne M. Thompson, Ph.D. 78, focused
on interdisciplinary skills: "If you do interdisciplinary
work and apply it to new problems, you stay at
the cutting edge and your career continues to
Priscilla Perkins Grew
62, professor of geosciences, University
of Nebraska, Lincoln, spoke to the issue of fearlessness:
"One of the biggest contributions we can
make is to help women overcome their fear of being
in the lead. It starts in elementary school."
Jane Butler Kahle, Condit
Professor of Science Education, Miami University,
Oxford, Ohio, pointed out the subtle differences
in the treatment of the sexes today. "We
no longer have overt sexism, overt discrimination.
We now have covert, very subtle differences in
the treatment of women and men."
Susan Graham, director
of new business development, Rohm & Haas,
Philadelphia, emphasized the need to urge women
to follow their hearts. She said educators need
to tell students, "Figure out what you like
and then go do it, and if it happens to be in
science or mathematics, so much the better."
CEO of Annovis, Aston, Pa., pointed out the need
for vision and power: "Martin Luther King
Jr. didnt say, I have a budget.
He said, I have a dream. I feel strongly
that we have to look at what we can do to integrate
women more fully in the seats of power, not only
in science but in policy as well."
Much of the symposium was
devoted to seven workshops that focused on issues
identified as critical to the full participation
and advancement of women in science. The workshop
format reflected two goals of the program planning
committee: to provide participants with strategies
and proposals they can immediately use in their
work; and to identify policy and practice recommendations
for broad application at all levels of science
education and in science and technology workplaces.
Pelligrini (l.) and Priscilla
Perkins Grew 62.
The workshops were convened
by Maria Pellegrini, program director at the W.M.
Keck Foundation, Los Angeles, and Maxine Lazarus
Savitz 58, former director of Technology
Partnerships at Honeywell Corporation, Torrance,
Calif. They and other participants elaborated
on education and workplace issues based on questions
raised by the opening panel. Pellegrini observed,
"Something that for me was a continuing theme,
which Kitty Didion picked up from the panelists,
is how and where do women and girls learn
to be successful in science?"
The education workshops addressed
issues, recommendations and action items related
to the topics New Learning Technologies, Pedagogical
Strategies, Preparing Science and Non-Science
Majors for Success, and Supporting Women
S&T Faculty. The workplace sessions were
titled Networking for Success, The New Economy
and Risk-Taking and Leadership.
Steps to Drive Change
At the close of the workshops,
participants reconvened to hear summaries of the
conclusions drawn from these lively discussions.
Educators now recognize
a wide range of learning styles and the ways in
which gender plays a role in learning style, observed
Lisa Bievenue, education research associate, University
of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who co-moderated
the New Learning Technologies workshop.
Science teachers have an opportunity to apply
new learning technologies, such as those offering
individualized, interactive experiences, to engage
students who have been lost to science at an early
age many of them girls. However, technology
development is occurring in relative isolation.
Therefore, the group recommended the creation
of a central directory of information, including
critical analyses of materials and the identification
of trends in development.
Among the key issues addressed
in The New Economy workshop were "The
big three access to capital, risk
aversion by women themselves, as well as potential
business partners and financiers, and isolation
from other women in science and technology careers,"
said Lori Perine 80, CEO of Interpretech,
Montgomery Village, Md..
Thriving in the new economy
means "Networking, networking, networking!"
Perine said. Women must reach out to women business
owners with access to capital, participate in
mentoring, and leverage changes in cultural and
"The economy is becoming
much more distributed," she explained. "There
are more virtual models of how business is conducted,
and that can be leveraged quite highly to our
advantage as female entrepreneurs. If you think
of the idea that business models and structures
have tended to follow sports metaphors, the previous
generation was a football generation, where the
quarterback called the plays. This generation
tends to be a soccer generation, where we need
sharing and cooperation to get to the goal, and
thats going to drive changes in the business
For science majors and non-majors
alike, "Math is the key to success in science,
math, engineering and technology careers,"
explained Toby M. Horn 72, recapping the
discussion in the workshop on Preparing Science
and Non-Science Majors for Success. National
Science Foundation-sponsored Project Kaleidoscope
programs are changing how math is taught at the
college level to provide more context and opportunity
for cooperative learning, which makes math more
appealing to many female and minority students.
But educators must provide more opportunities
for students to intern and develop mentorship
relationships with women in these careers. "Womens
colleges and small liberal arts colleges have
the best potential to encourage women to major
in math, science and technology," said Horn,
who represents DC ACTS, a coalition to improve
K-12 math and science education, at the Office
of Academic Services, District of Columbia Public
Jong-On Hahm, director of
the Committee on Women in Science and Engineering,
National Research Council, Washington, D.C., noted
that Risk-Taking and Leadership participants
focused a lot of their discussion of leadership
"on the characteristics we would like
to see: motivating people, open-mindedness, leading
by example and those are all great things.
We also talked about the qualities that make a
good leader, but arent so nice.
For example, ruthlessness making an executive
decision knowing a lot of people arent going
to like it."
Barriers to risk-taking and
leadership include fear of failure, which, as
Hahm summed up, "translates to, Im
going to fall flat on my face."
Co-moderator Elizabeth McCormack,
associate professor of physics at Bryn Mawr, noted
that the major incentive for taking risk is the
opportunity for personal growth and creativity.
"Thats a huge reason to take risk,
a proactive reason to go ahead and make some of
these difficult decisions."
Diversity a Requirement
Wulf (l.) and Catherine Didion
Friday evenings keynote
speaker, William Wulf, president of the National
Academy of Engineering, Wasington, D.C., chose
a topic that clearly resonated with his audience:
"the absolute requirement for diversity in
First, he said, "Engineering
is a profoundly creative profession,"
despite its image to the contrary.
Second, "Creativity is
derived from an individuals life experiences,"
he asserted. "When I say diversity, I do
mean what most people assume the representation
of women and underrepresented minorities. But
I also mean individual diversity the breadth
of experience of an individual engineer. Both,
I believe, are critical.
"If we do not have a
diverse workforce, we limit the set of life experiences
that team will have. As a result, we pay an opportunity
cost a cost in products not built, in designs
not considered, in constraints not understood,
in processes not invented."
Unfortunately, Wulf said,
American women do not go into engineering, despite
high starting salaries, because of its image as
an uncreative profession represented by
the "incorrect caricature" of the dry-as-dust,
bespectacled, pocket-protected male engineer.
And, he asserted, "This
is a problem that we must solve."
The National Academy of Engineering
is contributing to change in a number of ways,
among these, by making contributions to engineering
education a criterion for election to the Academy
and by establishing a new $500,000 prize for contributions
to engineering education, mirroring an existing
prize for engineering innovation. Wulf is also
hoping to create a center at the Academy for scholarship
on engineering education.
His message on changing the
negative image of engineering to attract women
to the profession was embraced by the audience.
Suzanne Franks, director of the Women in Science
and Engineering Program at Kansas State University,
Manhattan, commented, to laughter and applause,
"One of the things we talked about in our
session today and I have heard it come
up in other contexts is the fact that there
are TV shows that highlight the professions of
medicine and law as being very exciting, very
rewarding, very sexy kinds of places to be. I
personally think if we had L.A. Engineer
on TV, this would go a long way."
A National Policy Perspective
Speaking at the closing of
the symposium, Representative Connie Morella (R-Md.)
asserted that the success of women in science
relies on partnerships. "For us to succeed
in this endeavor and in so many others, it is
necessary for us to have a partnership of the
public sector, the private sector and academia."
Morella has focused her legislative
efforts on scientific research and development,
education, the federal workforce, equity for women
and the environment. In 1998 she authored legislation
establishing the Congressional Commission on the
Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science,
Engineering and Technology (on which alumna Jill
Sideman served), and continues to support efforts
to increase the representation of women, minorities
and people with disabilities in the science and
She noted that women have
made strides in areas such as law and medicine,
"But we need to do more with science, engineering
As evidence, she reviewed
the findings of the multidisciplinary Commission,
including statistics reflecting the dearth of
women and minorities in these fields.
"These figures are unacceptable.
I think its imperative that we understand
the diversity challenge, and meet that challenge
by learning and by practicing how to recruit and
how to retain women and minorities in the science,
engineering and technology fields."
Morella quoted a key conclusion
of the Commission: "Redressing this
imbalance is an economic and social imperative.
Our increasingly diverse nation can only prosper
on a broad foundation of human talent in order
to maintain leadership in an increasingly global
In response, she said, a coalition
of nine federal agencies led by the National Science
Foundation has provided $2.2 million in seed funding
to establish a public-private partnership to carry
on the work of the Commission. Called BEST
Building Engineering and Scientific Talent
the partnership will spearhead a three-year national
campaign by establishing itself as the national
hub for identifying and sharing best practices
in building a stronger, more diverse technical
workforce. In its formative stages, San-Diego-based
BEST "will be a resource for any institution
or community that wishes to meet the diversity
Looking Back, Going Forward
The College is enthusiastic
about the results of the symposium. "We were
delighted by the quality of presentations and
discussions," says Ruth Lindeborg 80,
who coordinated the planning and organization
of the symposium. "Many participants commented
on the value of the symposium in particular,
the value of bringing together women who work
in education with those working in the private
A number of groups on campus
are mapping out ways in which the College can
respond to proposals made by the various working
groups, Lindeborg says, "some in research,
such as how science curricula might better respond
to varied learning styles, and others in programs
for students, such as introducing students to
a wider range of career options in science and
technology. We also are looking at the leadership
role the College can play in the larger community
to promote gender equity in science and technology."
Lindeborg added that the College
has begun work on the proceedings, and is exploring
the possibility of a Web site dedicated to women
In her closing remarks, Sideman
reiterated one of her opening comments
that things have not changed much for women in
science since the 60s. And she echoed many
of the feelings expressed by participants over
the preceding two days. "We have a changing
landscape now, and I think that if we all work
together and all contribute, we can make change
happen. We have an opportunity this is
a new century and we can make real change
as women in science."
More than 120 distinguished
women and men from business, education, government
and industry participated in the Bryn Mawr College
Women in Science Symposium. The following individuals
served as speakers, workshop conveners and moderators,
Lisa Bievenue, Education
Research Associate, National Center for Supercomputing
Applications, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana
Amy Bug, Associate
Professor of Physics, Swarthmore College
Catherine Didion, Executive
Director, Association of Women in Science
Julie Sheridan Eng 88,
Director, New Product Development, Agere Technologies
Natalie Feilchenfeld 79,
Technical Team Leader, Silicon Germanium Technology
Development, IBM Microelectronics
Senior Scientist, Womens Health Research
Institute, Wyeth Ayerst Research
Suzanne E. Franks,
Director, Women in Science and Engineering Program,
Kansas State University
Susan Graham, Director
of New Business Development, Adhesives and
Sealants, Rohm & Haas
Priscilla Perkins Grew
62, Professor of Geosciences and Former Vice
Chancellor for Research, University of Nebraska
Paul Grobstein, Eleanor
A. Bliss Professor of Biology and Director of
the Center for Science in Society, Bryn Mawr College
Jong-On Hahm, Director,
Committee on Women in Science and Engineering,
National Research Council
Janice Hicks 80,
Program Director, Analytical and Surface Chemistry,
National Science Foundation
Toby Horn 72,
DC ACTS, Office of Academic Services, District
of Columbia Public Schools
Jane Butler Kahle,
Condit Professor of Science Education, Miami University,
and Senior Adviser, Directorate of Education and
Human Resources, National Science Foundation
CEO, Annovis Inc.
Associate Professor of Physics on the Rosalyn
R. Schwartz Lectureship, Bryn Mawr College
Rebecca Mercuri, Assistant
Professor of Computer Science, Bryn Mawr College
U.S. Rep. Connie Morella,
Maria Pellegrini, Program
Director, W.M. Keck Foundation, and former Professor
of Biology and Dean of Research, College of Letters,
Arts and Sciences, University of Southern California
Lori Perine 80,
CEO, Interpretech LLC, and former Deputy to the
Associate Director, Technology, White House Office
of Science and Technology Policy
Whitney Quesenbery 76,
Senior Vice President for Design, Cognetics Corporation
J. Pari Sabety 79,
Director, Technology Policy Group, Ohio Supercomputing
Maxine Savitz 58,
former Director of Technology Partnerships, Honeywell
Corporation, and Member of the National Academy
of Engineering and the National Science Board
Jill Sideman, M.A. 63,
Ph.D. 65, Director and Vice President,
CH2M HILL Companies Ltd., President-Elect, Association
of Women in Science, and Member, Congressional
Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities
in Science, Engineering and Technology
Anne M. Thompson, Ph.D.
78, Astrophysicist, Atmospheric Chemistry
Dynamics Branch, NASA Goddard
Nancy J. Vickers, Ph.D.,
President, Bryn Mawr College
William Wulf, President,
National Academy of Engineering
Kim Ann Zajack, Director
of Pre-College Programs, The Douglass Project
for Rutgers Women in Math, Science and Engineering,
About the Author
Dorothy Wright contributes
news and feature articles on science, technology,
engineering and general interest topics to a variety
of publications, including Civil Engineering,
Engineering News Record and Bryn Mawr