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  • Report: Women Face Barriers in Science Academies
Jun 2006
AMSTERDAM, Netherlands, June 29, 2006 -- There is "widespread and persistent" underrepresentation of women in scientific and technical fields, and research institutions don't encourage women or try to eliminate barriers they face when rising to top leadership positions. Those are some of the findings of a new report by the InterAcademy Council (IAC), a global organization created by 90 science academies.

The advisory report, Women for Science, targets the IAC's own membership, pointing out that women typically constitute less than five 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 (S&T), 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 leadership levels, the report said.

To help remedy the situation, the academies need to implement internal management practices that encourage and support women and to influence policymakers and other leaders to bring about broader change, the report said. On the whole, the disproportionately small number of women in S&T fields, particularly in leadership positions, is a major hindrance to strengthening science 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 US National Academy of Sciences, and Lu Yongxiang, president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in a statement, "and science must belong to all citizens, whether male or female, rich or poor."

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

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 also said that reform is not just needed in-house, and that the academies should use their alliances and influence with governments, universities and other organizations to support the higher education of women in science, engineering and industrial management while advising governments to remove barriers to their education and employment. Furthermore, they must help to empower in S&T arenas not only professional women but also women at the grassroots level in the developing world. Academies should also help establish and promote science and technology "knowledge centers," where women scientists and engineers can work at the grassroots level with women of their own culture on technologies for local needs and applications, the report said.

"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 in 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."

Each IAC study panel is established by the organization's governing board after consultation with the science academies of the IAP. Study panel reports are subjected to international peer review prior to release to ensure scientific quality, the policy-relevance of recommendations, and the absence of regional or national bias. Future IAC reports will focus on topics such as global transitions to sustainable energy systems and international responses to new infectious diseases.

Funding for this report was provided by L’Oréal-Paris, the Netherlands Ministry of Education, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and a grant from an anonymous donor. For more information, visit:

1. To influence to a single direction. 2. Voltage that is applied to a solid-state device.
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