Leadership Conference Tackles Women’s Roles in Science
By Judith Aquino
CUNY students streamed into the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College last week to listen to distinguished scientists discuss the challenges they face as women at the 6th annual Women’s Leadership Conference.
The conference’s theme, “Breaking Boundaries in Science and Health: New Careers and Challenges,” highlighted the limited opportunities women encounter in science-related fields, despite their accomplishments.
The conference was organized by Jay Hershenson, CUNY vice-chancellor and senior staff coordinator for the planning committee of the conference. He also created the Women’s Leadership Internship Program, which places CUNY students in the offices of elected women officials.
Female students outnumber their male counterparts in universities and are slowly closing the pay gap with their male peers. However, even though women make up half of the nation’s workforce, studies show that few women hold the highest-paid leadership positions in various industries, including science.
“The fact is women still face the extra burden of gender stereotyping,” said Jennifer Raab, president of Hunter College. “But we know if you remain determined, you are going to succeed.”
Wit and a strong work ethic are often effective tools for combating sexism in the workplace, said keynote speaker, Cornelia (Cory) Dean, the senior science writer at the New York Times.
“When I had just started working for the Times, people referred to me as ‘that little girl’ but I never let that stop me and I often spoke back,” Dean said. “The sexism may not be as overt as that anymore, but as women, we still have to struggle every step of the way.”
Finding a mentor and honing your negotiating skills are important steps to take when developing any career, said Dean. “Never sell yourself short and make sure you find someone who can help you move up.”
Dean was followed by a panel of six CUNY professors and scientists conducting research in areas such as biology, chemistry and biomedical engineering. Moderating the panel was City College President Lisa Staiano-Coico, a nationally prominent researcher in microbiology and immunology.
Staiano-Coico started the discussion by inviting the audience to ask the panelists questions about their experiences pursuing careers in science. The topics included work/life balance tips, advice on how to overcome a fear of blood, and advice on how to respond to discriminatory treatment from peers and mentors.
“Request a private meeting with that mentor as soon as possible,” said Dr. Eleanore Wurtzel, a professor and chair of the CUNY Plant Sciences at Lehman College. “Use that time to explain your concerns and document everything. If there is no improvement, seek out someone with a higher authority.”
Staiano-Coico reminded students not to be discouraged by the challenges they may encounter as aspiring scientists. “Science is a very competitive field,” Staiano-Coico said. “If you let someone persuade you to give up, it just makes it easier for them to succeed.” #