WISE Symposium Mulls Report on Women in Science and Engineering

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Provost of the Medical School, Karen Antman, University of Washington's Eve Riskin, University Provost David Campbell and NRL's Debra Rolinson at the WISE panel discussion
Provost of the Medical School, Karen Antman, University of Washington's Eve Riskin, University Provost David Campbell and NRL's Debra Rolinson at the WISE panel discussion

On the heels of a report released by the National Academies on barriers and biases against women scientists and engineers in academia, Boston University’s Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) held a symposium, “Transforming the Culture of Academic Science and Engineering” on Nov. 13.

According to the report, though more and more women are matriculating in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, very few are moving into academia after graduation — a trend that the National Academies have noted and investigated.

Forty years ago, only 3 percent of America’s scientists and technicians were women. In 2003, that number was closer to 20 percent. Still, the number of women is much lower than that of men and governmental reports and congressional committees have noted it of significance for both the economy of the nation as well as its national security.

At the College of Engineering, women make up 13 percent of the faculty, said Dean of Administration Richard Lally. In the last five years, seven out of 41 new hires were women, as compared to two hires out of 28 in the five-year period before that.

The ratio of arrivals, or new hires, to departures among the male faculty between 2001 and 2006 was 2.6, while it was only slightly lower for women, at 2.3. “Both factors indicate positive trends for female recruitment and also retention,” Lally said.

“We are trying to incorporate the best practices to ensure that the College is a highly attractive career choice for women,” said Dean Kenneth R. Lutchen.  

At the symposium, Lotte Bailyn, a professor of management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the co-authors of the report was a featured speaker as were Deborah Cotton, a professor at the School of Medicine, and Eve Riskin, a professor of engineering at the University of Washington. Debra Rolinson, head of the advanced electrochemical materials section at the Naval Research Laboratory also spoke.  

The symposium concluded with a panel discussion featuring University Provost David Campbell and Medical Campus Provost Karen Antman, as well as the invited speakers.

Others in the audience included co-chairs of the recently formed Council on Faculty Diversity and Inclusion, whose mission is to make BU a more attractive, supportive employer of women and minority candidates.

According to Campbell, a former dean of the College of Engineering, the University has seen a five-fold increase in tenured women faculty in recent years. “The best practices for women also benefit men,” he said, adding that BU science and engineering departments are moving in the right direction.