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AWIS in Action! Advocacy and Public Policy Newsletter February 2013
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AWIS In Action!

 Advocacy & Public Policy Newsletter   ~   February 2013
In This Issue
Cliffs, Ceilings, and Other Crises
Lately, government appears to be going from one manufactured crisis to the next. This chronic cry that the sky is falling makes it challenging for those of us in advocacy to generate any meaningful interest amongst our membership because people are burned out and indifferent to fear-mongering that appears to be politics as usual. A study in The Hill, a DC newspaper, found that only 36% of voters outside the Beltway know what sequestration means. In brief, it is draconian cuts to programs both sides of the aisle hold dear so, in theory, Democrats and Republicans in Congress would be forced to negotiate and compromise. Efforts by lawmakers to get back to the table and find a better solution than the across the board cuts, which will kick in next week if no further resolution is found, seem to have stalled. And now, politicians on both sides seem to be focusing their efforts on how best to deflect the blame rather than to do what is best for the country.
So what is the problem? First off, across the board cuts don’t leave room for more sensible planning. As it impacts the sciences, it will mean 8% cuts, or roughly $2.5 billion cut from the NIH budget and $1.5 billion from NASA. It also means $600 million from the NSF, $400 million from Department of Energy research, and over $300 million from the FDA. And that’s just the impact to science. It also means layoffs or unpaid leave for millions of employees. The Pentagon plans to furlough 800,000 employees if sequestration happens. It will also affect public school teachers, first responders such as firefighters and police officers, food safety inspectors, air traffic controllers, FBI agents, border control, airport security, to name a few who help keep us safe and invest in our future. Another problem is that while members of Congress do not want to compromise, they also don’t want to be held responsible for cuts back in their home districts. Therefore, they are seeking to defray the cuts to federal programs in their own backyards without trying to solve the problem for the nation. Lastly, entitlement programs are exempt from sequestration but are a large source of the deficit. Neither side wants to risk losing public support by bringing that up so that elephant in the room continues to go unmentioned. However, ignoring that problem won’t make it go away. As sequestration looms, attention is shifting to the next showdown which will occur before March 27th when a government shutdown will happen if other budget resolutions are not reached. Then again, government shutdowns have a better success rate when it comes to getting the attention of taxpayers.
For our part, we at AWIS have been trying for nearly a year now to bring attention to this issue by encouraging you to reach out to Congress and tell them to compromise, by sharing sign-on letters, by sharing stories of others who reached out to their members of Congress and their strategy for doing so, by creating an advocacy web-tutorial to help you get started. Most recently we’ve been working with Jorge Cham at PHD Comics to get the word out. This is a significant fight because federal funding for science in this country is currently stagnant, meaning it will be harder for those coming up the pipeline to get grants to start their own lab, and that hurts everyone in science. And when people fight for increasingly smaller pieces of a pie, concerns about equity tend to go out the window. Regardless of who winds up getting more of the blame, it is hard to see how any side thinks it can claim "victory” when hard working Americans from all walks of life will lose their jobs in a time of chronic economic uncertainty.
The Feminine Mystique for Scientists
This week marked the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan’s groundbreaking work, The Feminine Mystique, hailed by many as the book which initiated the second wave of feminism. The book admittedly focuses on the plight of the white, middle to upper class bored housewife who feels she isn’t living her life to the fullest of potential, and thus many women of color, women who had to work, and other marginalized women in society felt that it didn’t reflect their own story. Then again, it was Friedan’s first book; I doubt she could have anticipated that it would help launch a cultural revolution. Either way, people have been talking about it for the last 50 years. Much recent discussion has focused on benchmarking the success of the feminist movement and what still needs to be accomplished.
This brings us to the next big tide of issues both for women in science as well as society writ large. Why are women still opting to leave? Are these still problems with no name? Maybe not.
Women are still paid less than men for the same work and many are actively fighting against making equal pay an achievable goal. Even in STEM jobs, women still make about 87 cents on the dollar compared to men for equal work.
We are one of only a few nations in the world that does not guarantee paid maternity leave. The handful of other places that fail to provide such accommodations include Papua New Guinea and Liberia. This is a losing situation for both women and the economy as it leads to more turnover than is necessary, costing government and industry many millions of dollars each year in lost productivity. Balancing responsibilities doesn’t get easier from there. 28.5% of women still worry that a career in science is incompatible with raising a happy, healthy family.
Women still face discrimination, though less overtly, despite the progress made in the past 50 years by those who have been in the fight. A recent study demonstrated that even in academics, women are viewed as less competent, less desirable of a hire, less worthy of mentoring, and deserving of a lower salary.
Promotion to the top of food chain in academia or industry is still rare for women. Married women with children and a Ph.D. are 35% less likely than a married man with kids to get tenure, and 28% less likely than women without kids to get tenure. Only 13% of medical school deans were women as of 2010. Women currently make up only 4% of all Fortune 500 CEOs. Until we find a better way to help families balance the work required to advance their careers with the demands of modern life, including raising kids and caring for aging parents, we may find it challenging to further grow our ranks.
To avoid ending this only a downward note, it is worth mentioning that to someone of the third wave, reading descriptions of life at the beginning of the second wave 50 years ago really gives one a tremendous sense of appreciation for all the fighting, successfully, that has already been done. It is inconceivable to someone of my generation that we might have to ask a husband for permission to work, be denied access to credit without a husband’s signature, or to even have recourse against sexual harassment. We read of that with a mix of fascination and horror, and have many fierce advocates from all walks of life and of both genders to thank for the fact that our society has progressed beyond those times.
White House Celebrates Science and Technology
The White House has lavished much attention this February on science and technology. At the beginning of the month, President Obama recognized two dozen winners of the 2011 National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, handing out medals to each after providing opening remarks about the importance of the research enterprise in this country.  That is not a typographical error, they are rather behind on giving out these awards. Nominations may be submitted by anyone, and they are trying to encourage the nomination of more women, minorities, and scientists with disabilities. The National Medal of Science was established in 1959 and is the most prestigious award given for achievements in advancing health, security, prosperity, and general welfare in the United States.
In his annual State of the Union address, President Obama spoke about the incredible return American taxpayers have gotten on their investment in federal research, from the human genome project and Alzheimer’s research to increased battery strength and life and fuel efficient cars. He also spoke about the importance of recognizing the impact climate change based on scientific observation and developing alternative energy sources to reduce pollution and create new jobs.
The following day the White House hosted an event entitled the State of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math to bring students from local schools in to ask questions of prominent and accomplished speakers. They included John Holdren, Ph.D., director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Todd Park, the White House Chief Technology Officer; Jack Andraka who at 15 developed a cheaper, more effective test for Pancreatic Cancer, Bobak Ferdowsi, best known to America as the "Mohawk Guy” who was a part of the team which put the Curiosity rover on Mars this past summer; Lori Garver, NASA deputy administrator; and Peter Hudson, M.D., Co-Founder and CEO of iTriage, a mobile app. Although they represented a diverse range of scientific disciplines, rather tellingly, the majority of questions from the kids in the audience were about space and robots. While much else feels depressing in Washington at the moment, the appreciation and enthusiasm for science as well as the thoughtful questions posed by those in the audience give some hope regarding the future of the scientific enterprise in this country.
 M3 The Maddening Monthly Mention
 * Lowering the Bar for the Ladies *
Charlotte Whitton, the first female mayor of a major Canadian city, famously quipped, "Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.” Qualifying women’s achievements as something separate from what the men achieve or are thought capable of is obviously nothing new. In fact, the frequency with which that old trope is recited is thoroughly depressing. Why is it any time we talk about including women and minorities, people fret about the idea that somehow the bar is being lowered. Excuses are made, threats to individual or national security is cited, and it is generally implied that women are just not good enough.
Allow me to enter Exhibit A into the conversation. The National Academy of Engineering announced its new inaugural class this week. A whopping 6% of its 80 new fellows are women, and 1 of the 12 winners of specific NAE awards was a woman (and part of a husband and wife team). When we called them out on Twitter, they gave us the proverbial shrug and told us that they are currently taking nominations. Apparently "canvassing committee” isn’t in their vocabulary. Exhibit B: A study released last month examined retracted scientific articles and found that men are more likely to be guilty of academic fraud than women, particularly in the upper echelons of life sciences academia. In fact, a staggering 88% of faculty members that commit fraud were male, within some of the scientific disciplines in which women are best represented. Take women in combat as Exhibit C. Last month when Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that women would now be allowed in combat, people fretted about women’s mental and physical capacity for such work.
Cultural shifts have made it less acceptable for people to openly accuse others of lowering the bar if women are included, but that hardly means the comments have gone away. One need only read the comments after any article about the advancement of women, often posted under a pseudonym, or strike up conversation with a stranger at a cocktail party to hear that same kind of rhetoric. The reason for the old boy’s clubs is that back in the day, men were the ones in charge. Therefore the standards "they” developed became the perceived barometer for what was "quality”, who was "the best and brightest.” This means that men are perceived as being "better” at things because they were, for a very long time, frequently the only ones with access and opportunity to do those things. Study after study reinforces that no one is immune to these influences, even in academia. Those ideas are a part of the culture because men still heavily control media as well, which generally still portray women in stereotyped, limited roles rather than as characters with multiple dimensions. Thus the minute we start talking about making opportunities available for qualified women or other underrepresented groups, people start whining about how they will have to lower the bar. Sometimes even women within the elite complain about this, though they apparently don’t think the bar was lowered for them.
As Gail Harris, a retired Navy Captain who has received several decorations for her distinguished service in combat units, points out, "Outstanding job performance trumps criticism.”  Other studies have proven that women’s contributions in science are just as meaningful as men’s, such as the one that examined the impact factor of life science faculty, which found that women score higher than men on average in terms of journal impact factor. The challenge of changing the cognitive disconnect between our ideas about what women can do and the reality of what they are already doing remains and it is certainly a slow battle. But to suggest that women can only be allowed to participate if standards are lowered is a complete and utter outrage.
In This Issue
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