| Issue 54 Contents |
I found collecting together my ideas for the presentation I gave late last year rather tricky. In some ways even the title of my talk gave me trouble – was I going to entitle it: "What are women doing in applied science, engineering & technology?" or "Why aren't women doing applied science, engineering & technology?" I believed that the latter was really the issue I wanted to talk about but, of course, some of us are 'doing' these things already so how could I pose and then pontificate on that question. In the end I had about half my slides titled one way and half the other. This title problem captures the essence of the dilemma for me: there are effective and apparently happy, well adjusted women in the 'male' disciplines of the title of applied science, engineering & technology so "just what is the problem, ladies?"
In the end I tried to ask this 'question' - the one above - "just what is the problem ladies?" - in my talk and to answer it as best I could from my own personal perspective. I do the same in this brief summary.
My name is Ann Henderson-Sellers. It's mostly my husband's before you ask: I could have been triple-barrelled but thankfully I opted simply to take his name back in the unenlightened days of 1974. I also promised 'to obey' but I haven't really kept to that part very well.
I have a B.Sc. (Hons) in Mathematics awarded by the University of Bristol in 1973. I married Brian in September 1974, gained a Ph.D. in Atmospheric Science in 1976 while a graduate student based at the UK Meteorological Office. On my first day at 'The Office' a guy, who turned out to be pretty important, stopped me in a corridor and told me that 'ladies in the British meteorological service do not wear trousers'. I was wearing, for my first day, my very best outfit – a Jaeger wool trouser suit which cost a small fortune. It later transpired I should not have been walking down that corridor anyhow; well not until meteorological services the world over begin taking women into their senior executive that is. They still don't today.
My meteorological training proved that my capabilities as a forecaster are fairly poor. So I became an academic. First a lecturer, then a senior lecturer, then a Reader, after which I was awarded a Personal Chair by the University of Liverpool in the UK. This whole period spanned 1977-1988 and took place in the Geography Department at Liverpool.
I was offered the Chair of Physical Geography at Macquarie University in 1987 and Brian and I finally managed to immigrate in 1988. Soon after arriving I created the Climatic Impacts Centre there, and became its Director from 1988 until 1995. I moved to RMIT in 1995 to take up the post of Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Development) and remained in Melbourne until 1998. In September of that year we moved back to our home in Sydney and I became the Director Environment at ANSTO. This is my current job. I am also a Director of the New South Wales State Forests – an appointment also made in 1998.
In 1999 the University of Leicester awarded me a Doctorate of Science – not one of the honorary ones – the real thing involving a three volume collection of my published research over the last 20 or so years. This was a significant honour and one that pleased me greatly.
So, if I ask myself the question "what is the problem?", I admit to there being none. I enjoy my job and have enjoyed most aspects of my career. I like being a scientist and I reckon I'm pretty good at it. Certainly good enough to enjoy the (many) positives very much and mostly to be able to 'wing' the negatives.
Of course there is a problem. Women are clearly under-represented in applied science, engineering & technology over most of the world, particularly in the upper echelons of organisations. So, the question is posed by commentators (male?) "just what is the problem, ladies?" I ventured to suggest in my lecture that the answers lie in the stereotypes women and society have yet to overcome. These can be summarised as requiring women to fit one of the following moulds:
I admit to being a witch and rather enjoying it. After my talk, a few other witches came to confess that while they didn't possess either black cats or broomsticks, they too felt they might want to join a coven.
We know there are difficulties and obstacles to be overcome by women hoping to pursue a career in applied science, engineering & technology. We tell each other about the issues fairly clearly. For example:
"How has it happened that from being a leader in opportunities for women in the early 1960s, the computer industry in Australia is now only slightly ahead of mining engineers, the Boy Scout movement and the Anglican priesthood in the proportion of women to men?" (Sally Liggins)
"Is it possible to have more than one career rather than two jobs (home & work) as most of us do?" (Ketza Lambert)
The wealth of feeling of difficulties to be overcome was apparent at the November meeting we all attended last year. But why? Why is it perceived to be straightforward & reasonable for a woman to take a career break and return to, say, tax accounting, which seems to change with every budget, and this year also on 1 July, but not equally reasonable for her 'sister' to rejoin a career in applied science, engineering or technology? What is thought to be so difficult? Why do we advise our daughters not to go into science? Just exactly what is the problem, ladies?
The Australian and United Kingdom governments tried to solve the riddle of diminishingly sparse representation of women in senior positions in organisations and roles in applied science, engineering and technology in studies entitled 'The Rising Tide' (HMSO, 1994) and 'Women in Science, Engineering & Technology' (AGPS, 1995). Both reports are worth reading.
There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune (William Shakespeare). This study had as its terms of reference the following questions:
The Australian study had similar terms of reference:
I chaired this study for the Keating Labour government between May 1993 and August 1995. The membership comprised 12 women and 2 men spanning expertise in science, technology, engineering, management, the social sciences & history. Our Final Report on long & short term strategies to address WISET issues was submitted to government in August 1995. Sadly, Minister Cook was 'unable to act' on the findings due to the calling of the 1996 general election.
The Howard Coalition government has responded as follows to questions raised about the finding of the WISET study.
Senate Qu. No. 447 (3/3/97; Stott Despoja)
WISET provided valuable analysis; recommendations more relevant to the previous government; we prefer to create broad positive environment; and improve effectiveness of monitoring & reporting.
Senate Qu. No.687 (7/7/97; Stott Despoja)
Provision of over $5m in HEEP (HE Equity Program); and provision of 1000 HECS exemption scholarships.
Filters were discovered and re-discovered by both studies. These act to remove women and girls from the 'male' disciplines in applied science, engineering & technology at many stages. Together they provide a massive block to female progression. The main filters were found to be:
If a plan could be constructed to remove or at least reduce some or all of these filters there would be a much greater chance of women joining & progressing in applied science, engineering & technology. There are other issues to try to tackle also. These include:
Finally, there are the same old themes of societal, family & personal stereotyping.
I asked the conference attendees whether witches network. Sadly, I fear we do not, or rather we do not do it very well.
All organisations take their culture from their Chief Executive Officer. My advice to those at last year's meeting was don't believe what anyone tells you. All experience shows that if he's a bastard, the organisation is too. This applies even if there are women in deputy positions; in fact even more so, sometimes. Maybe becoming 2IC to a bastard turns witches into bitches.
On the positive side, as is the case in so many fields, the most effective way of changing culture is to do it. A female at the top really works! Adrienne Clarke is the one we all think of in Australia. There is Di Yerbury of Macquarie University: Australia's first and longest serving female Vice Chancellor who has encouraged and supported science & technology throughout her terms of office. Helen Garnett, of ANSTO, my current boss, is another really terrific example of an effective female who runs technology & science naturally and holistically. Mary O'Kane, Vice Chancellor of Adelaide University is another true technologist whose career proves that you can be a woman from the 'hard' science disciplines and make a great job of running a very complex organisation.
The inverse is true of course. Men who are interested in women's success help immensely. In my case my husband has been a terrific support. As was my Ph.D. adviser, Jack Meadows, and a mentor with whom I have worked throughout much of my research career, Bob Dickinson. None of these guys have been particularly overt about pushing or even wanting women in applied science, engineering & technology. They have simply supported me when I have needed it and held me back when I've needed that too.
We can help ourselves too, and I believe that we should. We can encourage systemic, as opposed to systematic, thinking; provide & support holistic, rather than pragmatic, approaches; and enter into dialogue, not debate, in all deliberations.
The preferred female 'type' is still the 'wife'. It's all too easy to slip into the 'yes, dear' role at work as well as in other settings. Even the alternatives of 'waif' or 'whore' can be tempting sometimes. How often have we become overly winsome or 'winning' in order to achieve a particular end? In my opinion most successful women are 'witches'.
Perhaps what we really need in order to advance the progress of women in applied science, engineering & technology is more covens!
Professor Ann Henderson-Sellers, the Director Environment at ANSTO, trained as a mathematician with a Ph.D. in atmospheric science. In 1999 she was awarded a D.Sc. for research excellence & leadership. Author of 413 publications, including 13 books, she is an elected Fellow of the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society and an Affiliate Scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Ann served on the Australian Science and Technology Council, has chaired the Australian Academy of Sciences' National Committee on Climate and Atmospheric Science and is currently a member of the Greenhouse Science Advisory Council. She is a company director and Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.