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Report on the AWIS Leadership Conference for Women

by Wendee M. Brunish

June 1996

 

In May of 1994 I attended Taking the Initiative: A Leadership Conference for Women, organized by the
Association for Women in Science. The conference was cosponsored by DOE and NASA, and included women from government labs, industry and academia. The conference was organized around the precepts of a talk given by Penelope Kegel-Flom, President of AWIS. She divided the leadership process into three parts: vision, alignment, and motivation, with feedback from others at each step of the process. The best aspect of the conference was the inspiring talks given by women pioneers who have helped light the way for the rest of us.

The conference began with a luncheon on Thursday, with guest speaker Dr. M.R.C. Greenwood. Dr. Greenwood graduated from Vassar College in the 1968 and returned to teach there for a decade beginning in 1978. Dr. Greenwood is currently Associate Director for Science with the Office of Science and Technology Policy. She spoke about the statistics that show increasing numbers of women in scientific fields, but a still very small level of participation of women in physical sciences and engineering. She mentioned that the number of men receiving advanced degrees in sciences was steadily declining, and that the only reason the overall number of science degrees was level was that an increasing number of women are entering the field. She concluded that getting increasing numbers of women in science was essential to this country's continued competitiveness.

At the end of Dr. Greenwood's talk, I (Vassar College Class of '75) asked her whether she thought that single sex education was vital to women succeeding or whether it only postponed the inevitable need to compete in a man's world. In reply, Dr. Greenwood stated that although she had attended Vassar when it was still a single sex college and had felt then that it was vital, when she returned to teach there, she discovered that a commitment to providing the best education for both men and women was perhaps more important.

After lunch, we attended a panel discussion with three leading women offering their insights into their career paths. Judith Britz, Vice President of Sienna Biotechnology, spoke about the importance of taking on new challenges and opportunities, but only when you feel that you are prepared for them. She emphasized that turning down an advancement was not the end of your upward career mobility. France Cordova, who was at Los Alamos National Laboratory for a decade and who is currently Chief Scientist for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, spoke about the importance of personal support systems. She emphasized day care, which she said is an issue that we will have to address at the national level
if we wish to see all workers reach their highest potential and regain national competitiveness. On a more
personal level, she urged all women to find good personal support systems, especially in their choice of a life partner.

The final panelist, Dr. Susan Henry, spoke about how she felt unprepared for each new leadership role (graduate student advisor, department chair, etc.) that was thrust upon her. However, she emphasized that by plunging in, listening to those she was leading and learning from leaders she admired, she was able not only to accomplish her task, but do it well, and expand her capabilities.

Later in the afternoon, we heard a few words from Dr. Florence Hazeltine, a gynecologist with the National
Institutes for Health. (Unfortunately, a very few words, because, due to poor planning and ineffective time
keeping, she was limited to about four minutes for her talk.) Dr. Hazeltine told us that when she joined NIH, there were three gynecologists and 37 veterinarians on staff, and she confirmed that this accurately reflected the NIH commitment to women's health issues. Dr. Hazeltine was determined to lobby Congress for a greater awareness of the need to study women's health, but found that as an employee of NIH she
was not permitted to do so. She promptly founded the American Society for Women's Health Research, and as a member of this society was legally able to lobby Congress. Her efforts were very effective, and most of what you have heard recently about the lack of clinical trials on women was brought to light through Dr. Hazeltine's efforts.

The next day, we heard from Marion Cox, Managing Director of Resource Associates, about conflict resolution. Techniques for how to recognize the common interests of the participants and how to achieve a resolution agreeable to all factions in the dispute were presented. Friday's lunch talk was presented by Ruth Davis, head of The Pymatuning Group, who spoke about the unique contributions of women.

Friday evening's program engendered a great deal of lively discussion. Prior to the conference, all the participants had been asked to fill out the California Psychological Inventory, an assessment tool used to measure personality traits and sense of well-being. Dr. Sandra J. Daniels used the results of the inventory to describe four leadership styles, and to tell us where we fit in this picture. This knowledge about the leadership styles used by ourselves and others is a useful tool and can help us to make the most of our strengths and ameliorate our weaknesses. Many women were surprised to learn about their personal styles. Delta is a relatively rare leadership style, although one frequently seen in scientists who are often more interested in behind the scenes influence than the titles and trappings of power. Alpha is the most common style for business leaders, and involves a take-charge nature and a desire to support organizational norms. Beta leaders are detail and implementation oriented, and provide leadership through helping others do their jobs effectively. Many of the women at the conference were gammas. Gammas are innovative and like to do things differently, but may also be a subversive force within the organization.

The last event of the conference was a talk by Dr. Estelle Ramey. Dr. Ramey is a well-known endocrinologist. She gave a very humorous talk concerning common misconceptions regarding women and hormones. She related an incident thirty years ago, when a (male) advisor to Senator Hubert Humphrey was quoted as saying that women could not be given important leadership jobs because for several days each month they were subject to the vagaries of their "raging hormones". Dr. Ramey responded, in letters to the New York Times and Washington Post, that surely women with "raging hormones" should not be entrusted
with the care of such a valuable resource as our impressionable and vulnerable children. She subsequently
debated and gently pricked the male vanity of this same gentleman, the outcome of which was that this middle-aged man ended by contending that HE had many more "raging hormones" than did Dr. Ramey. All in all, a delightful end to three days of celebrating our differences and our strengths as women.

Despite the logistical problems with this first leadership conference, it is clear that AWIS is dedicated to advancing the cause of women in science and in leadership roles. What I believe sets AWIS apart from many other women's professional organizations is their notable presence in Washington, DC and their commitment to lobbying Congress to support programs and policies that enhance the participation of women in science. I believe that both this type of leadership training for women and an effective presence on Capitol Hill will play an important role in promoting and increasing the role of women in science.


Wendee M. Brunish
Los Alamos National Laboratory
P. O. Box 1663, Los Alamos, NM 87545

editor’s note: AWIS’s homepage URL is:
http://www.awis.org/~awis/ and their e-mail address is
awis@awis.org, telephone number 202-408-8321

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