Women for Science

  • AuthorInterAcademy Council
  • TitleWomen for Science
  • Release Date1 June 2006
  • Copyright2006
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Gradually, governments around the world have been recognizing the need to make women and men equal partners in science and technology. The United States took an early lead in improving diversity in science and technology by passing the Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering Act of 1980, followed by the founding of the Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering (based at the National Science Foundation). In much the same spirit, the United States Congress appointed a committee in 2000 to draw up action-oriented recommendations for facilitating the education, entry, and advancement in science and technology of women, minorities, and persons with disabilities. Land of Plenty, the resulting report, makes a strong case for the marketplace benefits of diversity in science and technology, calling it ‘America’s competitive edge’ (CAWMSET, 2000).

A 1993 policy paper published by the Government of the United Kingdom, acknowledging that in science ‘women are the single most underused and undervalued human resource,’ led to the establishment of a small team in the Office of Science and Technology devoted to the advancement of women in science (HMSO, 1993). The United Kingdom also took the opportunity, during its presidency of the European Union in 1998, to put women and science on the agenda of other European countries. Aided by the ETAN group report (Osborn et al., 2000), it helped establish the abovementioned Women and Science Unit of the European Commission.

Progress in the United Kingdom itself had remained slow for 20 years or so, confined mostly to small projects on career advice and to networking groups struggling to raise funds. But new impetus was seen in 1999 with the development of a web-based statistical portal and the commissioning of evidence-based reports. In 2002, the ‘SET Fair’ report, submitted by the Baroness Greenfield to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, presented numerous recommendations regarding the retention and progression of women in science and technology. Promoting an inclusive workplace culture that values and benefits all employees through good management practice, the report called for investment in relevant infrastructure and proposed viable actions at all organizational levels (Peters et al., 2002). In response, the U.K. Government published a new strategy for women in science and technology and allocated £8million over five years (Department of Trade and Industry, 2003) to fund the U.K. Resource Centre for Women in Science and Technology.

Since its establishment in 1949, the People’s Republic of China has made steady progress in securing women’s participation in public life. With women enjoying equal access to education and employment, they have increasingly been involved in most spheres of Chinese social, political, and economic activity, including science. The Chinese Government has in fact set targets for the promotion of women into leadership positions across all fields; and other Chinese institutions, such as the All China Women’s Federation —the country’s largest women’s nongovernmental organization —are actively involved in promoting women’s participation in science. Consequently, women now make up some 40 percent of the country’s technical and professional workforce, though they are still underrepresented in the science and engineering academies, where they comprise only about 6 percent of the membership.

The Government of India responded to the need for women’s rapid progress by establishing a Ministry of Women and Child Welfare, which funds a host of projects and social schemes. Since 1980, the Ministry of Science and Technology has had a task force for women in science, and it provides incentives and awards for women scientists and S&T entrepreneurs. For example, it established a biotechnology park in Chennai exclusively for women. The Government has also been building knowledge centres that teach basic skills in information technology, agricultural practice, public health, and nutrition to rural women (Ministry of Science and Technology, India, 2004).

Although Japanese women and men have equal access to high-quality education at all , the representation of women in the total S&T workforce is the lowest of all OECD countries—only 11.66 percent (Normile, 2005). By contrast, women account for 26 percent of all scientists and technologists in the United States and 40 percent in Portugal. Moreover, women in Japan are generally confined to the lower levels of the occupational hierarchy (Figure 2.1).

In order to address this situation, the Japanese Government recently funded a large number of post-doctoral fellow positions for women. And because in Japan, as elsewhere, new areas of science, technology, and business —which are not burdened by a long history of dominance by men— often open the doors to alternative career paths for women, the Government is encouraging more start-up ventures for women and facilitating their increased access to venture capital.

The Science Council of Japan, in its report Japan Vision 2050, expressed concern about male domination of science and technology and recommended that the issue be addressed (Science Council of Japan, 2005). As of October 2005, the Science Council of Japan had increased its membership of women scientists to 20 percent, and one of its three vice-presidents is a woman.

In Egypt, the Government has established the National Council for Women (NCW) directly under the President of the Republic, to guarantee the required political leverage for women’s socio-economic empowerment and to ensure that they have equal access to the country’s resources and can participate equally in its development. In order to enhance the status of Egyptian women in science, the National Council for Women is represented on the board of the National Commission on Scientific Research, and its Secretary-General is the Chair of the National Committee for Women in Science and Technology.

Document Date: June 1, 2006
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