Association for Women in Science
The Association for Women in Science is a national advocacy organization championing the interests of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) across all disciplines and employment sectors.
In 1971, at the annual Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) meeting, flyers were posted inviting women scientists to a champagne mixer and meeting to encourage the exchange of ideas and solutions to overcoming job discrimination, lower pay, and professional isolation. Those 27 women who took the initiative to make science a better place for women founded the Association for Women in Science (AWIS), today's organization advocating the interests of women in science and technology.
The 70s and 80s – organization-building and advocacy
AWIS was founded in 1971 at the annual meeting of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), after a series of champagne brunches organized by an informal women's caucus. First step was to establish an office in Washington, DC, with an executive director. Then, chapters were built across the country and recruited individual members. Other accomplishments in the early years include the creation of the AWIS Educational Foundation (now known as the Educational Awards) to receive donations and award fellowships. AWIS focused on advocacy for women in science across all scientific and technical disciplines and at all educational levels.
They also published the AWIS Newsletter (later AWIS Magazine) with stories on policy issues and career development, and created and maintained a Directory of Women in Science, to document the depth and breadth of their expertise and serve as a source of candidates for jobs, appointments, and awards.
Significant achievements included the participation in lawsuits to enhance the professional environment for women in science, including successful suits to have NIH include more women on peer review panels and to have the government enforce hard-won protections such as Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Opportunity. They also persuaded a leading publisher to withdraw a new edition of a medical text that featured "Playboy"-style photos. Through the Legislative Task Force, based in Washington DC, working relationships were established with key legislative and executive branch staff, to ensure attention to women in science concerns.
The 1990s – mentoring activities, international networking, and domestic policy involvement
With grant support and members' dedicated time and effort, AWIS undertook mentoring activities to reach the largest possible number of young women during these years. Chapters' outreach to students in their communities was developed, through small grants and resource materials. The association published A Hand Up, Women Mentoring Women in Science, a book written by Deborah C. Fort, PhD, to serve as a paper mentor for those not reached directly by AWIS members. This best-seller was later translated into Spanish.
AWIS won a Presidential Mentoring Award for Creating Tomorrow's Scientists: Models of Community Mentoring. AWIS responded to many inquiries internationally, and extended its efforts to help women abroad. They also received accreditation as a UN Non-Governmental Organization and attended the 4th World Conference of Women, where AWIS created and co-chaired the first science and technology caucus for a UN Women's Conference. Became a founding member of The Global Alliance, in collaboration with AAAS and WEPAN. AWIS continued its networking activities to enhance the education and work environments for women in science.
AWIS established itself as a major player in political processes that affect women in STEM, and played an instrumental role in developing the legislation that established the Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering, and Technology (CAWMSET) and successfully nominated AWIS President as member. They were recognized with an ADVANCE Leadership Award from NSF for an Academic Climate study. They also joined the Council of Scientific Society Presidents, a group that advocates for science on Capitol Hill and with the National Academy of Sciences.
During these years, AWIS joined key groups working toward full inclusion and recognition of women across the spectrum of sciences and technology. They joined other groups to petition Congress to strengthen the application of Title IX to STEM departments in academe.
The AWIS President was appointed to the National Leadership Council of Building Engineering and Science Talent (the organization established to ensure implementation of CAWMSET recommendations.) She was invited by People to People Ambassador Program to lead delegation to China Continued advocacy to enhance the environment for women in science. The Executive Director and Board Members participated in media interviews and wrote letters in response to remarks by Harvard President Larry Summers.
They also published the Washington Wire (bimonthly e-newsletter) with timely alerts on science policy and women in science analyses, and received grant to undertake study of issues facing those in full-time non-tenure-track academic positions.
Representing the 7.4 million women working in STEM fields, AWIS members are professionals and students in fields spanning the life and physical sciences, mathematics, social science, and engineering. Over 50% of AWIS members have doctorates in their respective fields, and hold positions at all levels of industry, academia, and government.
The 49 chapters of AWIS members nationwide serve as local networks and mentoring groups for professionals in every stage of their careers, connecting scientists to students and young women and girls considering careers in STEM.
Activities of the association range from advocacy, news publications, mentoring, scholarships, job listings, conferences, speaking, and initiatives to raise awareness about gender bias in professional and disciplinary societies, as well as research-based, industry and university environments.
In an effort to promote the entrance and advancement of women in science, AWIS has a long-standing commitment to fostering the careers of women science professionals. Events at the local chapters nationwide facilitate networking among women scientists at all levels. AWIS chapters also encourage the participation of girls and women in science by sponsoring educational activities in schools and communities. At the national level, AWIS publishes a variety of materials to inform girls and women about science programs and women's issues, including the quarterly AWIS Magazine and the AWIS in Action! Advocacy and Public Policy Newsletter. The organization serves as a voice for women in science by helping to shape national policy through Congressional advocacy and by participating in a variety of national coalitions.
AWIS believes that women in STEM are prevented from reaching their full potential – not because they are less able or less willing – but because of barriers that exist in scientific workplaces. We work to bring this message to Congress, the media, and employers by:
o Representing the 7.4 million women in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce and advocating for their retention and advancement in leadership positions across all disciplines
o Engaging national legislative bodies and federal agencies in discussions and workshops about gender bias
o Advocating for STEM institutions and corporations to develop policies that increase equal gender representation on boards, conference programs, grant review panels, and committees
o Strengthening current partnerships and developing new alliances to leverage effectiveness
o Promoting gender specific data collection by national, state, and private entities
o Developing and providing useful materials to inform others about our policy initiatives and how to advocate in their own communities
The AWIS magazine is a quarterly members-only publication, with professional articles on all topics pertaining to science, including scientific research findings, grant review panels, science and art, and the status of women in STEM.
The AWIS in Action! Advocacy and Public Policy Newsletter, published monthly, gives the latest updates on legislative initiatives in Congress and nationwide news pertaining to women in STEM.
The Washington Wire member newsletter contains timely information and updates.
The Getting the Most out of Your Mentoring Relationships, a book by Donna Dean, PhD, provides extremely valuable information on mentoring.
Coalitions and Partner Organizations
- STEM Education Coalition
- National Coalition for Women and Girls (NCWGE)
- American Association of University Women (AAUW)
- Society of Women Engineers (SWE)
- Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE)
- Carol Greider (Nobel Prize Winner in Physiology or Medicine, 2009 "for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase")
- Joan Herbers (National President, 2010–2011)
- Phoebe Leboy (National Past President 2008–2009)
- Janet Koster (Executive Director)
- Susan Fitzpatrick, President
- Joan M. Herbers, Immediate Past President
- Gail Gasparich, Secretary
- Donna Gerardi Riordan, Treasurer
- Gail Gasparich, Professor of Biological Sciences, Councilor
- Rita Colwell, Councilor
- MJ Finley Austin, Councilor
- Ann Lee-Karlon, Councilor
- Susanne Neuer, Councilor
- Janet White, Councilor
- Patricia Pedersen, Councilor
- Laura Lorenzen, Editor-in-Chief, AWIS Magazine (ex officio)
- Janet Bandows Koster, Executive Director (ex officio)