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January 27, 2003
Volume 81, Number 4
CENEAR 81 4 p. 12
ISSN 0009-2347



Report calls for action to retain women in academic chemistry

ON THE WAY Cambridge University graduate student Amy Kieran studies host-guest interactions. Photo by Yiu-Fa Ing
British universities and their chemistry departments need to adopt measures to increase the number of women in chemistry, particularly in senior positions, according to a report released at the Royal Society of Chemistry in London last week.

The report, "Recruitment and Retention of Women in Academic Chemistry," reveals that the total percentage of women in chemistry in the country drops from 38% at the undergraduate and graduate stage to 25% for postdoctoral researchers. Women account for 18% of academic chemistry staff overall, but a meager 2% at the professorial level.

The current situation is unacceptable, says Julia S. Higgins, professor of polymer science at Imperial College, London. She chaired the working group that carried out the study and also chairs the Athena Project, which aims to advance women in science, engineering, and technology in U.K. higher education and increase the number of women recruited to top posts.

The study, however, found a number of examples of good practices that positively influence the recruitment and retention of women in academic chemistry.

"The departments that are most successful are open, friendly, and supportive," Higgins tells C&EN. "They have a culture that allows individuals to thrive and be rewarded for their contributions, regardless of gender or family circumstances."

Trudy Coe of Evaluation UK, a consulting group that did much of the project work, notes that good practices in recruiting and retaining women are patchy in departments of chemistry and other sciences in Britain. "Good practice is embedded in departmental cultures, histories, and personalities," she observes. "In general, departments need to take short-term initiatives to improve the immediate position of women and also plan to sustain long-term change in their cultures."


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Copyright © 2003 American Chemical Society

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