Women for Science

  • AuthorInterAcademy Council
  • TitleWomen for Science
  • Release Date1 June 2006
  • Copyright2006
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Increased visibility

Say ‘scientists’ to the average person and images of women do not usually come to mind. The embedded image of the scientist is very much that of a man. Changing the perception that women can and do become achievers in science and engineering, and that their numbers in these fields could one day reach parity with those of men, is an important part of the entire strategy relating to women-for-S&T careers.

Women scientists and technologists need to be featured in books (Wasserman, 2000; Padilla and Santos Ocampo, 2004) and textbooks, newspaper articles, on television, and in other media outlets. Professional forums and public events should highlight their successes.

 Nothing spells success like an award, but at present women receive few of science’s prestigious prizes and distinctions (Osborn et al., 2000). For example, out of the 491 Nobel Prizes awarded in physics, chemistry, and physiology and medicine, only twelve (two to Marie Curie) have been awarded to women (see Box 3.1). This phenomenon derives in part from the fact that women scientists and engineers have been scarce at the top levels, reflecting the much greater gender imbalance of earlier generations. Another reason is that suitable women candidates, when they do exist, may be overlooked by committees dominated by men. Approaches as simple as guidelines and training sessions for writing letters of support, recommendation, or nomination could help to broaden the pool and begin addressing gender inequities in this area.

Academies can contribute to the enhanced-visibility effort by honouring the achievements of distinguished women and awarding prizes created specifically for women. Further, academies can work to ensure that women scientists and engineers, whether they are top prizewinners or not, receive media exposure for their accomplishments. When books or reports related to the history of science are being written by academy members or staff, every effort should be made to highlight the women who have made significant contributions. Similarly, such achievers could be given enduring exposure in the naming of lecture halls, classrooms, awards, and fellowships. And in their routine activities, the academies should aim to achieve gender balance in their committees.

 Resources exist that can be useful in such efforts such as the database on women experts (www.setwomenexperts.org.uk) maintained by the European Association for Women in Science, Engineering, and Technology; and the website www.alphagalileo.org, which provides a database of scientists for use by journalists.

By pursuing these and related options, the academies would be complementing the recent actions of countries, such as India, the United Kingdom, the Philippines, and the Republic of South Africa, that have made special efforts to recognize and promote the careers of women scientists. The Republic of South Africa’s innovations, for example, include the Distinguished Woman Scientist award, the sponsoring of fellowships for promising young women scientists, and half of the TW Khambule NRF Research Awards for Black scientists and technologists.

Academies are asked to identify successful women scientists and increase their visibility by such means as maintaining lists of their countries’ top women in science and technology; including these women in academy publications and websites; recognizing them at academy events and inviting them to make presentations; and encouraging scientific organizations and establishments to nominate women for awards, while ensuring that women are represented on juries and selection committees.


Document Date: June 1, 2006
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