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Getting Women Into the Physics Leadership Structure
Nationally and Internationally
Elvira S. Williams1, Lilliam Alvarez Diaz2, Katharine B. Gebbie3,
and Karimat El-Sayed4
1College of Arts and Sciences, Shaw University, USA; 2Ministry of Sciences, Technology and Environment, Cuba;
3Physics Laboratory, National Institute of Standards and Technology, USA;
4Faculty of Science, Ain-Shams University, Egypt
Abstract. The underrepresentation of women among physicists around the world, especially in leadership positions, has
broad implications for industries and government agencies with a strong need for a technologically educated workforce.
The dearth of women physicists in academia exacerbates the situation in that female students lack exposure to successful
women in the field. Three years ago, an international group of women met for a round table discussion at the First IUPAP
International Conference on Women in Physics and discussed the importance of having women in leadership positions.
They shared their experiences and successes, and drew up and reported a set of recommendations addressing the
preparation of women for leadership, the selection process, and the responsibilities of institutions. They acknowledged
that implementation of their recommendations would differ among countries. At the Second IUPAP International
Conference on Women in Physics an international group of women met again to review, revise, and move forward on
revamped recommendations from the first conference. This is a report on the new set of revamped recommendations,
which address why women should be in leadership positions, goal setting, best practices, commitments, and follow-up
actions for the attendees of the second conference.
Keywords: women in physics, leadership, networking, media exposure
Three years ago 300 physicists, 85% of them women, traveled from 65 different countries to meet in Paris at the
First IUPAP International Conference on Women in Physics. A subgroup of them discussed the importance of
having women in leadership positions. It was noted that there is a dearth of women among physicists in positions of
leadership worldwide. It was also noted that for women to feel equal partners with men in a technological society,
they need to see women participating fully in various scientific endeavors, ranging from policy making to research.
The group shared their experiences and successes and drew up a set of recommendations, which they categorized
under three headings: preparing for leadership, the selection process, and responsibilities of institutions. It was
acknowledged that national differences would play a role in implementation—because of cultural, social, and
political factors that have roles in the careers of women physicists. It was therefore advised that each society develop
its own guidelines for enhancing the status of women in physics.
The following were specifically prescribed as follow-up actions for attendees of the first conference:
Establish national and international support systems, such as direct mentoring, e-mail support, networking,
and workshops, to help women physicists share experiences and research facilities. (This is important for all
women physicists, but particularly for those in countries where women are at particular disadvantage.)
Collect data on the ratio of men to women in top management positions in leading universities, research
institutes, professional societies, and funding agencies. (Data are important not to focus on past discrepancies
or precise statistics, but rather to demonstrate that there is a problem and to establish a baseline against which
to measure future progress.)
Actively pursue invitations to speak about this conference at schools, universities, and conferences.
Urge professional societies to establish committees, websites, and electronic bulletin boards for women.
CP795 Women in Physics, 2
IUPAP International Conference on Women in Physics
edited by Beverly Karplus Hartline and Ariel Michelman-Ribeiro
© 2005 American Institute of Physics 0-7354-0278-7/05/$22.50
We report here on the Second IUPAP International Conference on Women in Physics (2005, Rio de Janeiro),
during which a group of women from 42 countries gathered to continue the topic of “Getting Women into the
Physics Leadership Structure Nationally and Internationally.” Discussion items in our report are: why women should
be in leadership positions, setting goals, commitments, best practices, and follow-up actions for attendees of the
WHY WOMEN SHOULD BE IN LEADERSHIP POSITIONS
To clarify what they meant by positions of leadership, the women at the first conference identified positions of
leadership “not simply as the opportunities for exercising leadership that occur at all stages of a career, but rather as
formal positions with control over allocation of human and financial resources and over the research agenda.” Using
this definition, the second conference group identified the following reasons why women should be in leadership
Health of the field. Physics must draw on the widest possible spectrum of talented individuals from both
Diversity of views. Women can bring a valuable perspective to the decision-making process.
Visibility. A position of leadership gives women the visibility in the scientific community that they would not
otherwise enjoy and the opportunity to influence others and affect scientific policy.
Societal support. Women are half the population and must feel part of a technological society.
Promotion of qualified women. A leadership position gives women the opportunity to assure that qualified
women are promoted and that all women are treated fairly.
Diversity in leadership styles. Women tend to have quite different—and often more effective—styles of
leadership than men.
Improving the research environment. Women in positions of leadership have the opportunity to improve the
research environment for men and women alike.
The group acknowledged that it will take time and that many challenges will have to met before women will hold
positions of leadership in the proper proportions in all countries. Toward this end, they set a long-term goal to
significantly advance the percent of women in physics on decision-making boards, such as societies, faculties,
universities, and national and international organizations.
The group discussed the possible practices necessary to achieve the goal of getting more women on decision-
making boards. The following were selected as the best practices:
Be proactive in developing a pool of female candidates.
Improve the mechanism or selection process for leading positions.
Sponsor workshops for developing leadership and communication skills.
Seek opportunities for leadership experiences.
Support women when they get into leading positions.
Mentoring and networking.
Commitment to the cause was considered essential for attaining the long-term goal. The following examples of
participants’ personal commitments when they return to their home countries were discussed:
Work to increase the number of women on international committees.
Use experience to mentor younger physicists by networking and assisting them in solving th eir problems.
Collect more detailed statistics on the participation of women in physics at different levels.
Increase the number of women physicists in their institutes.
Get more women into physics management positions in their countries.
Convince more women to seek higher positions.
Convince men that they must support women getting positions of decision making—for a more harmonious
Encourage women to publish their work and pursue their PhDs.
Build a local women’s group involving faculty members and postgraduate and undergraduate students.
Support social meetings for young women to share and hear the experiences of older women in physics.
Nominate and increase female memberships at their own institutions.
Encourage high school girls to pursue scientific careers.
Act to improve the physics educational level at public schools, especially for girls who are the most gifted and
for those from low-income families.
Create a working group of women in their fields of physics.
Create a database of women candidates for invited talks and for different committees.
Publish an article in the bulletin of their society discussing the current situation of women in the field.
Publish biographies and histories of lives of relevant women in physics in the developing world as role
Nominate women physicists for awards and fellowships.
Work to elevate recognition in the public media of outstanding women in physics to the same level as athletes
FOLLOW-UP ACTIONS FOR CONFERENCE ATTENDEES
In their home countries, conference attendees need to:
Profile good examples of women in leadership positions in physics (expose to media: Internet, magazines,
Encourage women in leading positions in physics to create and carry out visions.
Expose young and older girls early (as well as women of all ages) to their capabilities as leaders in physics.
Make contact with teachers and teachers’ organizations in physics—for them to provide leadership, role
modeling, and coaching in leadership for girls and women.
1. Establish a national and international networking relationship of women in physics, professional teachers
associations, and other organizations, such as the NAFP1 Women’s Consortium in the U.S. that targets all
women (regardless of age, walk of life, disability, and so forth) for recruitment into physics and other
2. Promote the participation of women in all spheres of society and in particular in fields such as the sciences,
medicine, computer science, agricultural science, and engineering. Such participation has enormous
1 NAFP = NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) Administrator’s Fellowship Program (www.uncfsp.org/nasa/nafp/).
implications not only for the women themselves, but for the whole of our societies, and is also very important
in shaping the future of the developing countries.
3. Encourage governments to award prizes to women achievers in physics (and other sciences).
As was concluded at the First IUPAP Conference on Women in Physics, getting women into physics leadership
is not expected to happen quickly. Nor will it happen without strategic plans involving men, women, and institutions
as change agents steadily exerting serious effort toward reaching the long-term goal of significantly advancing the
percent of women in physics, in real decision-making roles, as described in this report. Honoring the commitments
that have been set forth here will greatly enhance the probability of eventually reaching the goal in all countries.
Special thanks to the more than 40 conference attendees who participated in the two concurrent group discussion
sessions on the topic, “Getting Women into the Physics Leadership Structure Nationally and Internationally,”
during which the content of this report was generated. Special thanks also to all organizations and individuals who
contributed financially and in other ways to help organize and carry out Second IUPAP International Conference on
Women in Physics.
1. K.B. Gebbie, et al., “Getting Women into Positions of Leadership Nationally and Internationally,” in Women i n Physics, The
IUPAP International Conference, AIP Conference Proceedings 628, New York: American Institute of Physics, 2002, pp 151-
2. L. Alvarez, “Women in Sciences in Cuba Today,” invited lecture at the Conference on Key Issues Facing Women in Science
in the Caribbean, held in Trinidad and Tobago on April 29 to May 2, 2001, by the University of the West Indies and the
National Institute for Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology.
3. L. Alvarez, A. Pérez, and M. Cobas, “Women Doing Hard Sciences in the Caribbean,” in Women in Physics, The IUPAP
International Conference, AIP Conference Proceedings 628, New York: American Institute of Physics, 2002, pp 151-152
4. E. Williams, “University Leadership from the Perspective of a Woman Physicist,” invited talk at the 2005 Annual Conference
of the National Society of Black Physicists and Black Physics Students, held in Orlando, Florida, on February 16-20, 2005.