World's Science Academies Must Increase Female Participation And Urge Policymakers to Support Women in Science and Technology

Monday, July 26 2010


AMSTERDAM — The world's academies of science, engineering, and medicine must take immediate action to help remedy the widespread and persistent underrepresentation of women in scientific and technical fields, says a new report by the InterAcademy Council (IAC), an organization created by 90 science academies across the globe. As a start, the academies themselves need to implement internal management practices that encourage and support women, and influence policymakers and other leaders to bring about broader change. On the whole, the disproportionately small number of women in the science and technology (S&T) enterprise, particularly in leadership positions, is a major hindrance to strengthening science capacity worldwide.

"If we are to spread science and its values around the globe, both in industrialized and developing nations, the full potential of all populations must be harnessed for scientific endeavors," said IAC Board co-chairs Bruce Alberts, past president of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and Lu Yongxiang, president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, "and science must belong to all citizens, whether male or female, rich or poor."

The advisory report, Women for Science, targets the IAC's membership, pointing out that women typically make up less than 5 percent of an academy's members. And many research institutions around the world have resisted fully opening their doors to women in science and technology, or eliminating barriers they often face after they do gain entry. As a result, women drop out in the early stages of their S&T careers more frequently than men, and few rise to the top strata of leadership.

"The perspectives, talents, and skills of women will enrich the science and technology enterprise," said Johanna (Anneke) Levelt Sengers, co-chair of the advisory panel that wrote the report, and scientist emeritus, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, Md. "Global S&T capacity building is not possible without including women."

"All nations, whether industrialized or developing, face a broad array of challenges that require the application of up-to-date scientific knowledge and technology, such as finding strategies to stimulate economic growth, mitigate environmental problems, safely adopt beneficial new technologies, and quickly respond to sudden outbreaks of diseases," said Manju Sharma, co-chair of the panel that wrote the report, India's former secretary of biotechnology, and the current president and executive director of the Indian Institute of Advanced Research, Gandhinagar. "But the research enterprise is being deprived of the vibrancy that results from the inclusion of a wider range of skills, experiences, viewpoints, and working styles. Every person counts."

The report urges academies to formally commit to the full inclusion of women in their organizations, in any research institutes they manage, and throughout the S&T community. It concludes that "good management practice" is required to help reach this goal, including commitment from the top leadership, clear criteria for promotions and awards, professional training and mentoring, and inclusion of women in formal and informal organizational networks.

The report is available online at

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