Equal Pay Day 2014

equal-payAs an organization, we empower women to seek equal treatment in all manners under the law. AWIS supports our members whether it is negotiating for equal pay, helping them get employers to comply with workforce standards such as access to lactation facilities and maternity leave, or giving them the tools they need to handle any other instance where gender based discrimination remains a problem. One of the lingering issues AWIS members face is unequal pay for equal work. Women make up half the workforce and are 40% of the primary breadwinners in this country, but women working full-time still only earn 77 cents on the dollar made by a man (the gap has closed by only 18 cents over the past 50 years). Some of this is due to career choices, but even when all other differences are taken into consideration, some of the gap cannot be explained by anything but discrimination.

Today, April 8, is Equal Pay Day, symbolizing the extra number of days into the following year a woman must work to equal a man’s pay for the previous year. Gender discrimination in pay is a smaller issue in STEM than it is for many other fields, but it is still an issue nonetheless. Helping teach women to negotiate more effectively is not sufficient to end this discrimination. Women executives at the highest levels of S&P 500 companies, presumably some of the most gifted negotiators in the world, still make 18% less than their male counterparts. If they can’t close the gap at those levels with that kind of talent, how can anyone reasonably expect women to do so at lower levels when it is still a fireable offense at many companies to even try to find out what their other colleagues earn? Secrecy is one of the biggest impediments to fair pay; if people can’t ask how much others are making, they cannot reasonably be expected to empower themselves to close the gap.

President Obama will be signing two executive orders today to encourage transparency and thus reduce gender based wage discrimination. One order will prohibit federal contractors from retaliating against workers who discuss their salaries, though this only effects companies that get government contracts and funds. The other order is a presidential memorandum instructing Labor Secretary Tom Perez to create new regulations requiring federal contractors to report data on salaries, broken down by sex and race, to the government. Lastly, he will make a speech encouraging the senators to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which they are voting on today. This bill contains similar provisions to the executive orders.

What can you do to help? In less than two minutes of your time, you can ask your members of Congress to support the Paycheck Fairness Act. This link will send a letter of your own or a form letter to your representatives based on your address. It shouldn’t require espionage and subterfuge for women to make sure they are being paid fairly.

Image Credit: Chairman Media

Celebrating Women’s History Month

Our third post in this month’s series is excerpted from A PIONEERING SPIRIT:  Dr. Anne Briscoe written by  Pam Williams and Marci Moore for the AWIS Magazine Spring 2011 Volume 42, Number 2.

“It’s been a great adventure.” This is the way that Dr.  Anne Briscoe, founding AWIS member and tireless, outspoken advocate for women in science, sums up her life and career. It’s easy to see why.

After postponing her graduate studies to teach “the boys who failed science” during World War II, she graduated with a Ph.D. from Yale in 1949 and went on to teach at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, Hunter College School for Health Sciences, and the Harlem Hospital Center School of Nursing. She was a representative of American Women Scientists at the United Nations, vice-chairperson of the New York City Commission on the Status of Women and a fellow of the New York Academy of Sciences. She was advised by Ruth Bader-Ginsberg and was honored with both the Yale Medal and the Wilbur Cross Medal for her work on behalf of Yale University. During one of her three visits as a guest to the White House, she was almost removed by the Secret Service because of her eagerness to say hello to President Gerald Ford and tell him how pleased AWIS was by his programs for women. Briscoe’s career highlights can easily fill the page. However, her contribution as a founding member of AWIS may be even more enthralling.

In 1970, as she had done in prior years, Dr. Virginia Upton was organizing an annual champagne mixer for women scientists attending the annual Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) meeting. It was during these early social gatherings, where women scientists got to know one another and shared their stories, that the seeds of AWIS were sown. Around the same time, Dr. Judith Pool’s involvement with the newly formed Professional Women of Stanford Medical School prompted her to respond to the mixer invitation with a request for something she called “a little more functional” than a “crowded noisy room of women chattering on an indiscriminate basis.” She asked Dr. Upton to consider restructuring the mixer into a forum where women from many different institutions could compare their experiences with discrimination, lower pay than their male counterparts, and lack of career advancement, then share ideas and solutions for dealing with these very real issues.

On April 13, 1971, the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) was formed to promote equal opportunities for women to enter scientific professions and achieve their career goals. Dues were collected and officers elected.

To read the entire article, visit the AWIS Magazine archives at http://www.awis.org.

Celebrating Women’s History Month

Our second post in this month’s series is excerpted  from Dr. Rita Colwell: A Model First written by A. B. Diefenderfer for the AWIS Magazine Summer 2010 Volume 41, Number 3.

After ten male directors, a woman took the top spot at the National Science Foundation in 1998. There could not be a more appropriate first female director for the NSF. Her name isblog 2Dr. Rita R. Colwell, and her story is that of an innovative, inquisitive, and talented individual.

Dr. Colwell received a bachelor’s degree in bacteriology and a master’s in genetics from Purdue University followed by a doctorate in marine microbiology/oceanography from the University of Washington.  During the course of her career, she has authored or co-authored well over a dozen books and several hundred scientific publications.

In addition to her work at the bench, Dr. Colwell is deeply involved in global health with a specific emphasis on cholera (still a major issue in developing countries). While studying Vibrio parahaemolyticus as a post-doctorate researcher, she made three important discoveries: a form of bacteria related to the one causing cholera is found in the oceans as well as the human gut, its levels are related to changes in sea height and temperature, and lastly, there is “a direct relationship of cholera outbreaks to plankton abundance.”  These findings led to an NIH-funded research project where Colwell described an innovative way for people in developing countries to filter water to minimize cholera’s impact on a population. The simple use of folded sari cloths provides an easy, ubiquitous filter that is effective yet inexpensive and widely available.

Dr. Colwell has balanced her family life, career, professional responsibilities, and academic research with an admirable and enthusiastic finesse. For a woman whose hypothesis about cholera was “not accepted for a long time, and who was once told that an academic department should not “waste fellowships on women,” Dr. Colwell’s persistence has been rewarded with a long list of accolades and accomplishments that will inspire any woman in science.

To read the entire article, visit the AWIS Magazine archives at http://www.awis.org.

Happy International Women’s Day!

BLOGHappy International Women’s Day!  Each year we celebrate the accomplishments of women who have gone before us to pave the way for better wages and opportunities for equitable promotion.  AWIS will be recognizing these trailblazers throughout the month of March with interviews and retrospectives drawn from our archives which record women’s contributions to the STEM enterprise and their impact on society.  Their stories reflect the real challenges our members face every day in labs, classrooms, corporate boardrooms, and government offices around the country.

Our first post is excerpted from Cracking the Puzzle:   An Interview with Carol Greider by Sydney Gary written for the AWIS Magazine Fall 2006, Volume 35, Number 4.

In 1984, Carol Greider, then a first-year graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, chose a research project because, as she puts it, “It seemed like a fun puzzle to crack.” Twenty-two years later,Greider was one of three scientists recognized for their work in cracking this puzzle by receiving the 2006 Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research, one of the highest honors a scientist can receive.

The puzzle that intrigued Greider was how the structures at the end of chromosomes, called telomeres, are formed and maintained. Working in the laboratory of Elizabeth Blackburn, Greider explored the hypothesis that a specific enzyme was responsible for keeping telomeres intact. Using extracts from the pond ciliate Tetrahymena, it only took her nine months to find evidence that the hypothesis was correct, there was an enzyme at work making telomeres. In December 1985, Greider and Blackburn published their paper describing the work and introducing telomerase to the world.

Choices and Opportunities

Greider identified two critical moments during her early career as a young scientist that contributed to her success. The first happened when she was interviewing for graduate school and first met Blackburn. The combination of Blackburn’s personality and approach to science as well as the research was what attracted Greider. “As soon as I interviewed with her, I knew this is what I wanted to do,” remembers Greider. Another critical moment came in 1987 when Greider was looking for postdoctoral opportunities. A member of her thesis committee recommended she apply to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory for a postdoctoral fellowship. She did apply, and went to the prestigious research institution on Long Island to give a job talk, but she didn’t get the fellowship. Instead, she was offered something much better – the position of Cold Spring Harbor fellow, which provides promising young researchers with their own laboratory space and financial support.

“This was a major opportunity,” Greider says. She took advantage of the opportunity by continuing her studies on telomerase, working to clone one of the genes responsible for its activity. She published this work in 1989, continuing to establish herself and this emerging field of research as significant players in cellular and molecular biology. She transitioned to a faculty position at Cold Spring Harbor sooner then expected, brought about by the request of a student who wanted to join her lab. In order for her to take the student on, she needed her own NIH grant. So, she promptly applied for a grant and obtained it, resulting in a promotion to Assistant Investigator and her first graduate student in 1990.

Carol Greider won The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2009 together with colleagues Elizabeth H. Blackburn and Jack W. Szostak.

To read the entire article, visit the AWIS Magazine archives at http://www.awis.org.

6 in 10 Women Would Earn More if Paid the Same Wage as Men

Yesterday was the 5th anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Act. The law, passed in 2009, is a breakthrough for combating pay discrimination not just for women, but for all.  Today, on average, women still only earn 77 cents per dollar earned by men. It appears women have a ways to go before reaching equality.

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “Nearly 60 percent (59.3 percent) of women would earn more if working women were paid the same as men of the same age with similar education and hours of work. The poverty rate for all working women would be cut in half, falling to 3.9 percent from 8.1 percent. The high poverty rate for working single mothers would fall by nearly half, from 28.7 percent to 15.0 percent. For the 14.3 million single women living on their own, equal pay would mean a significant drop in poverty from 11.0 percent to 4.6 percent.”

There are many ways that we can continue to close the wage gap, call or email your Senator or Representative to tell them that women deserve equal pay.