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Make way for women

Posted 22/09/2010 by RoseS

A recent survey organised by the Royal Society in the UK revealed that 90% of 18-24 year-olds could not name a female scientific figure – either current or historical, although almost half were able to name at least one famous male scientist, such as Albert Einstein.

Public knowledge of the role played by women in major scientific breakthroughs was also found to be low. Only 18% of those surveyed were aware that Dorothy Hodgkin, for example, discovered the structure of insulin. But what about Marie Curie?

According to a vice president of the Royal Society, Professor Lorna Casselton, the results are ‘frustrating’ – something of an understatement.

There was some good news, however, as the survey also indicated that a proportion of parents see scientists as good role models for their daughters. Out of the six role models on offer in the survey, almost half of the 1000 adults questioned chose ‘life-saving doctor’ but Nobel prize-winning scientist came second in the list, polling 20% of those surveyed.

But then perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by these results – after all the chemical industry isn’t exactly overflowing with women in top executive positions. Until recently there were just two: SCI Honorary President Stephanie Burns, who heads up Dow Corning, and Ellen Kullman, chair and ceo of DuPont, both of course at the helm of US corporations.

But now we have a third, Sandra Peterson, who takes over from Friedrich Berschauer on 1 October 2010 as chair of Bayer CropScience.

Petersen has an enviable track record with McKinsey, Whirlpool and Nabisco before joining Merck & Co, where she played a role in the strategic spin-off of Medco Health from Merck & Co, latterly serving as group president of Medco Health Solutions, before joining Bayer in 2005 as a member of the executive committee of Bayer HealthCare and now Bayer CropScience.

The disappointment is that she is not a chemist or even a scientist but her appointment is still most welcome, and Bayer is to be congratulated on its choice.

Let us hope that other chemical concerns take this as a lesson – we need more women in chemical company boardrooms and soon.

Neil Eisberg - Editor

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  • Anonymous said:
    30/09/2010 10:18

    Marie Curie and Susan Greenwnood spring to mind immediately as having been in the public eye but what about Prof Judith Howard or Prof Chris Willis as eminent chemists?The trouble is that girls simply are not attracted to science - there were about 7 women on my course out of 90 undergraduates in the 1960s. Any sign of progress on this?