Women for Science
Authoring Institution
Release Date
June 1, 2006

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  • 1. Introduction

    Women must have the same opportunities to contribute to science and technology (S&T) as those enjoyed by men. This will reflect gender equality , described so compellingly by the Beijing Declaration of the Fourth World Conference on Women as ‘an inalienable, integral, and indivisible part of all human rights and fundamental freedoms ’ (United Nations, 1995).

    But there also are highly practical reasons to include women as equal partners in all human endeavours. A more diverse workforce, which reflects a wider variety of experiences and views, can greatly benefit the S&T enterprise as well as society as a whole. Technological innovation will broaden, competence will grow, and countries will prosper when the workforce is diversified to fully include both women and men. Optimal solutions to problems are more likely to be found, notes William Wulf, president of the United States National Academy of Engineering, where a greater number of perspectives are brought to bear (Wulf, 2005).

    Unfortunately, the under representation of women in science and technology —especially in senior and leadership positions—remains a worldwide phenomenon. The number of women in S&T research and teaching is relatively low, there are few tenured professors, and still fewer women are deans or heads of departments. Women’s presence in industrial S&T is usually even lower than in academe, and female industrial leaders are rare.

    This omission is serious enough in scientifically advanced countries, but it is a major impediment to economic growth in the developing world. As emphasized in the report Inventing a Better Future: A Strategy for Building Worldwide Capacities in Science and Technology of the InterAcademy Council (IAC, 2004a), each developing country needs a critical mass of scientists and engineers to help ensure its sustainability. The Women for Science report extends this vision by arguing that it is equally important to transfer practical technological knowledge all the way down to the grassroots level. Aiming for anything less than the world’s full engagement of its women—half of its reservoir of talent, skill, and energy —is tantamount to condemning much of the earth’s population to poverty and disease.

    James Padilla, president and chief operating officer of Ford Motor Company, has stated the issue this way: ‘Voices that are silenced or ignored, for whatever reason, represent not only an injustice but also a valuable resource that has been wasted, a tragic waste of human capital’ (Padilla, 2005).

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