DR. ANNE PETERSEN
National Science Foundation
AAAS Annual Meeting, Baltimore, MD
February 10, 1996
Association for Women in Science
Thank you for inviting me to this luncheon. It's good to be among so many good friends and colleagues. It is also a welcome relief to feel the temperatures rise outside. I hope the rising mercury and the coming of spring coincide with a positive climate for science sixty miles south of here.
At this conference I have been thinking about the progress of women in science. Our numbers are growing and the culture is changing. There was a time in the not-too-distant past when we had to look to the far reaches of conference rooms to see other women at scientific gatherings like this. Over the 25 years since the founding of AWIS, women have made great strides breaking down cultural and institutional barriers in science. All along the way, AWIS has been there providing leadership. The entire scientific community should thank you for your tireless efforts. I would like to personally stress to you that I will contribute in any way possible to promoting the work that you do.
While the pace of change is too often frustrating and slow, we can be proud of what we have achieved. A critical part of our advancement has to do with building community among women from all scientific disciplines. This community is growing and thriving, which is surely cause for celebration. I was recently looking at some of the AWIS chapter homepages on the World Wide Web and was amazed by the number of sites. The Web has come along at just the right time for women in science to share information and develop ideas in new and creative ways. The possibilities are exciting--and I am sure that AWIS will stay at the cutting edge.
Many of you were involved in the Women and Science conference here in Washington last December. The excitement that the conference generated was truly invigorating. From the beginning I underestimated its impact. It was a transforming experience. I left the conference with a greater understanding of the challenges we face and an exhilarated sense of possibility.
The conference gave us positive, intangible benefits that have lasted beyond that two-day event. One effect has been the stimulation of a national network of women scientists. Positive steps to build community through organizations such as AWIS and events such as the Women and Science Conference will nourish us to meet the challenges of the future.
When we each work in our small corners of the world, we too often lose sight of the larger picture and get frustrated by the slow pace of change. This is one reason why community building is so important. AWIS and other networks of women scientists are important vehicles for mutual support and the development of leadership.
We can all be encouraged by the fact that women are a growing presence in most scientific disciplines. In a real sense, we now have a seat at the table. But the challenge now is more complex, as we focus on what happens at the table. We have to think about the subtle nuances of the sociology of leadership and power.
The social and cultural barriers to women in science are real, but the cultural and institutional barriers are more subtle and therefore are often more difficult to address.
Yesterday Neal Lane talked about the new need for a "civil scientist." We need new leadership from the research community to bring our understanding of science and its value into the life of our own communities. In today's environment, the health of science needs full participation by women more than ever before. This call for a new type of leadership asks us to reach out to our communities. Women are uniquely qualified to play a new leadership role because we are natural communicators who play many roles simultaneously--from bench scientist to classroom teacher to parent. Each person in this room is uniquely well-suited to play this public role.
Part of the message that we must convey to our communities is that this nation will reap rewards when it opens its doors to women. There are no substantive reasons why women cannot be active at all levels. This reality is borne out by the many women who have succeeded at all levels in universities, industry, and government. Instead, the barriers are political and cultural--a reality that requires us to think more deeply about ethnic and gender stereotyping and the exercise of power. This conversation is not always easy. It requires patience and trust and a new type of leadership.
We need to examine what we believe collectively about the roles of men and women. Too many well intentioned men and women associate leadership with masculinity. We need to address stereotypes that are ingrained in all our minds. This has to do not only with the way others see us, but it also has to do with our own self-understandings.
In our conversation today we must keep in mind the real possibility of shrinking federal support for science and technology. We are at a critical point for the future of science in this nation. The current federal budget projection for the support of science looks bleak. The AAAS has projected the real possibility that federal investments in R&D will be cut by one-third over the next seven years.
The near term picture for science funding makes us feel no more secure. NSF is still operating under continuing resolutions, and none of us know when we will have a budget for this fiscal year. Entitlements, interest on the national debt, and election-year promises of tax cuts put an incredible squeeze on all discretionary funding. It looks like the pie will not be expanding anywhere in the near future.
I am sure you will agree that deep cuts in science and technology will cause grave damage to the nation's economic and social progress. We must concern ourselves with this reality because, if science and technology are cut short, opportunities for women in science will be cut short. It is therefore our responsibility to tap into our natural abilities to provide greater leadership for science and technology and to speak out for R&D investments for this nation's future. While the threat of scarcity is real and potentially devastating, we should see this challenge as an opportunity to provide leadership.
Some of the trends that are inhibiting women's professional advancement are in reality positive for the culture and practice of science--and should be encouraged and rewarded. This is an unfortunate irony. Let me elaborate with one example. Recent research shows that women have a greater tendency to collaborate and give credit to others.1 Yet, by sharing the spotlight, women are not credited appropriately for their contributions. We can all agree that collaboration is critical to good science, especially considering that today's most exciting scientific advances involve interdisciplinary work. Collaboration and credit-sharing should be encouraged and rewarded. This would not only remove a barrier for women, but would contribute positively to the whole culture of science.
Again, thank you for inviting me to be here with you today. AWIS is truly an important organization with a significant national presence. Your work will be critical for the health of science for years to come, and I look forward to working with you.
1 Sonnert, Gerhard, Gender Equity in Science: Still an Elusive Goal, Issues in Science and Technology, Winter 1995-1996
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