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The Charge of The Association for Women in Science (AWIS)

By Catharine Jay Didion and Kelly Meeker

Catharine Jay Didion is the Executive Director of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) in
Washington, D.C. Kelly Meeker is Project Coordinator at AWIS and is a student at Georgetown
University School of Foreign Service, studying Science, Technology and International Affairs.

June 2001

THE ASSOCIATION FOR WOMEN IN SCIENCE (AWIS) is a non-profit, nongovernmental
organization dedicated to achieving equity and full participation for women in science, mathematics, engineering and technology. As the largest multi-disciplinary science organization for women in the United States, AWIS is recognized as a national leader and innovator due to its success in initiating and implementing key programs for faculty and administration assessment and training throughout government, industry and academia. The Association for Women in Science was founded in 1971 to act as a professional network and advocate for gender equity in the sciences. AWIS goals are pursued on many fronts through our network of 72 local chapters and our national office in Washington DC, which works with the U.S.
government, international organizations, and other organizations with complementary goals
and missions.

AWIS works toward accomplishing its goal of gender equity in the sciences by developing
publications regarding mentoring and studies on the climate for women in science and networking.
AWIS receives funding from many government and non-governmental offices and organizations,
which is augmented by membership dues and donations. AWIS uses its funding to produce
publications and complete studies and projects aimed at encouraging girls at a young age to
begin studying the sciences, and developing measures and mechanisms to meet the needs of
women in the sciences at all levels of education and employment.

Contrary to popular perception, women are still dramatically under-represented in the
sciences, throughout industry, government and academia. By 1996, women earned 30 percent of
the 1,461 doctoral degrees awarded in chemistry, and 44.5 percent of the 4,365 doctoral degrees
awarded in biology (National Research Council Doctorate Records File). Women represent 22
percent of the science and engineering labor force and within science and engineering women
are more strongly represented in some fields than in others. More than half of sociologists and
psychologists are women compared with only 9 percent of physicists and 8 percent of engineers.
Women make up 44 percent of academic faculty overall, but only 24 percent of faculty in science
and engineering (Women’s Educational Equity Act Equity Resource Center; see Graph 1).

Professional women who are interested in encouraging young women to enter the sciences
can best achieve this goal by becoming mentors. Mentoring has been proved an effective mechanism
for encouraging girls and young women to pursue their interests not only in the sciences, but
also in other academic fields. For the past 10 years, AWIS has established and improved
community-mentoring programs for pre-college, undergraduate and graduate students. A detailed
publication entitled Mentoring Means Future Scientists, which presents and analyzes the results
of this mentoring program, was published. In AWIS mentoring projects, girls at the secondary
school level participate in activities and projects geared towards increasing their interest
in science, engineering and technology careers, heightening their awareness of scientific
career opportunities, and improving their self-confidence in these subject areas. Also,
women at the undergraduate and graduate level are encouraged to seek out mentors in
order to become involved in the network of the scientific community. AWIS is also
involved with MentorNet (www.mentornet.net), an organization that pairs college
and graduate level students with e-mail mentors in all areas of science and technology in order to provide guidance and advice.


Statistics suggest that some of the most important issues for women scientists who are already on the faculties of academic institutions are tenure, promotion, and professional advancement. In order to address these concerns, AWIS has completed a Project on Academic Climate, in which site appraisal teams made visits to different universities and colleges in order to interview faculty and students to survey the atmosphere for women in various science departments. Site visit teams asked a number of questions regarding recruitment
and hiring practices; policies on dual career couples, shared positions and maternity/paternity
leave; tenure and promotion policies and practices; student and faculty mentoring and
advising; and the social atmosphere within the department. In reviewing the responses to
surveys and interviews, site visit teams prepared reports assessing the current climate in each
institution, and making recommendations for specific actions to be taken to improve the
climate. The results from all of the different visits were compiled into a study with overall recommendations
and best practices according to the experiences of the institutions visited.

AWIS is celebrating its 30th Anniversary from February 2001- February 2002. In order
to mark this important milestone, AWIS is working with its network of chapters to plan
local events throughout the country. We hope to encourage the visibility of AWIS as well as
reemphasize the importance of networking in developing gender equity in the sciences.
Also, AWIS is planning a Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C. from October
18-20, 2001. The Leadership Conference Committee has chosen two basic themes: (1) Unity, Science, & Policy; and (2) Service & Careers. The focus will be on AWIS members and providing a forum to explore
issues relevant to their careers. All AWIS members and chapters will be invited to attend with
two representatives from each chapter.

AWIS was also involved in the establishment of the Commission on Women, Minorities, the
Disabled in Mathematics, Science, Engineering and Technology (CAWMSET) by
Congress in 1998 in order to develop recommendations to improve the
domestic science, mathematics, engineering and technology (SMET) workforce through establishment
of equity. AWIS testified in the Congressional hearings surrounding CAWMSET’s
development, and AWIS’ President-Elect, Jill Sideman, served on the Commission. CAWMSET
developed a set of recommendations based on specific actions to be taken by federal and
regional governments in order to (1) improve the diversity of the SMET workforce; and (2) meet
the rising employment needs of the SMET industry by improving access to SMET education.
In February 2001, AWIS held the first meeting to discuss the implementation of the recommendations
made by CAWMSET.

International Activities

In June of 2000, the United Nations convened a special session focused on women’s issues
entitled “Women 2000: Gender Equality Development and Peace for the Twenty-First
Century.” At this UN special session, AWIS was proud to have taken the lead in organizing two
separate but related events: the “Forum on Women in Science and Technology” and “Let
Everyone Play: Symposium on the Digital Divide.” An AWIS delegation attended the
preceding UN special session, the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 in Beijing, China.
Participants and delegates in Beijing created a Platform for Action, identifying 12 critical areas
of concern specifically relating to women: education and training; health; poverty; violence;
armed conflict; human rights; power and decision-making; institutional mechanisms;
economy; media; environment; and the girl-child.

At the “Forum on Women in Science and Technology,” participants reviewed progress
made since Beijing and identified areas for future action. While the Platform for Action did not
explicitly include science and technology, this session identified four areas (of the Platform for
Action) most relevant to science and technology, which were chosen for review and discussion:
(1) Environment; (2) Health; (3) Power and Decision-Making; and (4) Education and
Training (See Sidebar). It was AWIS’s goal in creating the “Forum on Women in Science and
Technology” and “Women Crossing the Digital Divide into the Future” to ensure that science
and technology be included in every future agenda to empower women.

Global Alliance

AWIS is a founding partner in the Global Alliance, a collaborative effort of several
women’s organizations committed to increasing the participation of women in the science,
mathematics, engineering and technology (SMET) workforce, as well as developing equity
for other groups according to ethnicity, age, discipline, language, and cultures. The Global
Alliance’s primary objectives are twofold: (1) to establish worldwide collaborations with higher
education institutions, corporations and government, and (2) to facilitate the development of
long-term, sustainable infrastructures in science and engineering for a diversified workforce.


The Gender and Science and Technology (GASAT) 10th International Conference will
AWIS continued from page 9 convene in Copenhagen, Denmark from July 1-6,
2001. GASAT is an international organization committed to developing socially responsible and
gender inclusive science and technology. AWIS will give two presentations at the GASAT
Conference: the first concerns mentoring women in science, and the second concerns transitioning
women between education and careers in the sciences. Furthermore, AWIS is collaborating
with the Global Alliance to give other presentations on the international aspects of the gender
equity issue.


Linking Science and Technology to the 4th World Conference on Women’s Platform for Action: Four Areas of Concern Regarding Women in Science and Technology

1 Environment

  • Support women’s roles in the preservation of biodiversity;
  • Encourage participation of women in practices and decision-making involving
    sanitation, water use, and land use patterns.

2 Health

  • Provide access to modern, safe healthcare for all women and children;
  • Support research that improves quality of life for women and girls;
  • Promote corrective and preventive strategies for reducing death and disabilities associated
    with childbirth.

3 Power and Decision-making

  • Promote women’s access to decision-making positions;
  • Influence development choices especially around issues that affect energy,
    food security, use of natural resources, and education.

4 Education and Training

  • Ensure equal access to quality education and training for girls and women that includes
    basic education in science and technology;
  • Build up and maintain support systems to encourage access to higher education in
    scientific and technical fields for women.

Reference: Linking Science and Technology to Women’s Needs, developed for the Global Alliance
by the American Association for the Advancement of Science with support from the Department of
Energy, Office of Science.

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