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February 21, 2013 | Over 100 people filled Center Green's south auditorium on January 25 to hear the perspectives of 10 NCAR women scientists and to share their own strategies and experiences. “Where NCAR Was and Where We Are Going: A Conversation with Female Scientists,” was moderated by Maura Hagan, who takes the reins as NCAR interim director on February 25.
The session inspired lively discussion and varying views on a range of topics of ongoing concern, from the importance of mentors to the status of women in scientific leadership and the perennial struggle for work/life balance. The event was sponsored by the Asian Circle and WORLS (Women Organizing Research and Leading Science).
In her opening remarks, Maura reviewed current data on women in science around the country and outlined some activities at NCAR and UCAR that have contributed to positive change (see sidebar). Each of the 10 panelists then shared brief statements, including general observations and personal anecdotes.
Several speakers highlighted the need to actively seek out mentors—and to have more than one. The leadership and support of a strong supervisor are critical, yet panelists noted that even the best manager may not be able to intuit your career goals. "Let people know what your aspirations are," advised Bette Otto-Bliesner (NESL/CGD). "You have to be proactive about that."
Questions on the status of the glass ceiling inspired the group to examine metaphors and definitions surrounding leadership and success, and several people focused on prevailing assumptions about how quickly one needs to climb the scientific ladder. Instead of everyone being on the "fast track," one speaker suggested the metaphor of an elevator, with varying speeds from express to local, to better recognize and accommodate shifting demands on time throughout a scientist's career.
Several participants noted that the strength or weakness of the glass ceiling varied across the organization, to which Peggy added, "Maura, you're standing there, so it must be at least cracked."
The panel and audience members offered a variety of modes for coping with the “two-body problem”: the challenge professional couples face of finding two jobs within reasonable proximity and/or juggling competing work/life demands.
Some couples have taken turns every few years, alternating which career, and hence location, took precedence. Others decided which partner would pursue part-time opportunities while young children were at home. Everyone agreed that the kinds of structural support available at NCAR—from flexible work schedules to telecommuting to the ability to stop and restart the tenure clock—remains crucial. Despite those supports, as Sue Haupt (RAL) noted, variations in elevator speed aren’t always considered in proposal reviews and other evaluations. Typically, scientists are still judged in terms of total number of publications since Ph.D.
No matter how you juggle schedules, it’s important to stay visible, advised Peggy LeMone: "Go to as many meetings as before, so people don't forget about you."
Gang Lu (HAO) is encouraged to see that half of this year's incoming postdocs at the High Altitude Observatory are women. She and other speakers emphasized the importance of strengthening and maintaining critical mass in the scientist ranks to keep the organization moving forward on gender equity. There was also agreement that the growing presence of women can be leveraged in important ways: for example, to strengthen peer-to-peer coaching, raise the visibility and availability of inspiring role models, and share information through organizations such as WORLS and the Earth Science Women's Network.
The archived webcast is available on the NCAR website (use your UCAS password to watch it here).
Project Implicit (a multi-university collaboration)