To make such success stories more common, science and engineering academies in countries and regions around the world need to play a critical set of roles. They can effect change within their own organizations and, given the high esteem in which they are held, serve as prominent examples of good practice. They can advocate change on a national scale by collaborating with governments, universities, and research institutions, whether as partners or advisers. And they can work with sister academies and international organizations to help improve the local climate for women and further their participation in science and technology.
Given their objectivity, integrity, and position at the pinnacle of the scientific establishment in their respective countries, the academies are uniquely placed to collectively lead in the shaping of the scientific and technological workforce for the utmost benefit of humanity.
Although they may have different charters, functions, and organizational structures —as influenced by their histories, national scientific cultures, funding sources, and size —all academies honour scientific achievements and draw into their ranks eminent and influential people. The academies’ impacts in general are thus wide-ranging, both through their activities as institutions and through the individual contributions of their members. In particular, they can advance programmes that eliminate the gender inequities seen around the world.
Indeed, some academies have begun doing just that, making laudable efforts to increase the participation of girls in science education. But these efforts have had limited effect on women’s involvement in science and technology. Once girls grow up, graduate, and embark on S&T careers, they tend to be unsupported in their professional aspirations and to not receive appropriate recognition. Women who enter, or try to enter, the S&T arena—much less advance themselves to higher positions—are confronting societal barriers that in some cases have been maintained for centuries.
A broader strategic approach —one of deliberate top-down change in institutional structures across the global S&T community—is thus required. Academies can demonstrate such enlightened leadership and help other organizations, of all types, to adopt it as well.
Members of the IAC