Women learn how to pierce the 'polycarbonate ceiling' in chemistry careers

September 21, 2005

Nine out of 10 women who've taken workshops aimed at helping them break through the "polycarbonate ceiling" in chemistry careers report reduced workplace stress as the result of new negotiation and communication skills learned in workshops developed by COACh, the Committee on the Advancement of Women Chemists.

Geri Richmond, the University of Oregon chemistry professor who founded COACh in 1998, describes the impact of COACh programs on women scientists around the country in the Sept. 22 issue of Nature.

"COACh is unique for taking a top-down approach, working to eliminate institutional barriers handicapping women scientists, while at the same time helping women faculty move up the career ladder and become leaders in their research, teaching or administrative roles," Richmond said. "Their success also enables them to be more effective role models and mentors for younger women scientists."

The buzz in the science community about the value of COACh workshops, originally developed for women faculty in chemistry, has spread beyond chemistry as hundreds of women science faculty members in other fields have now also attended COACh workshops.

"Women are still far too rare in the sciences," Richmond said. "For many, our workshops are their first opportunity to be in a room filled with academic women scientists and engineers, a setting where they can share their stories, frustrations and aspirations."

In October, COACh will present its first workshop in Boston geared specifically toward minority women science faculty. Richmond said collaborations are in the works with women scientists in Germany, Great Britain and Latin America. Another new venture is a series of forums, designed for men and women science faculty and administrators, aimed at helping academic departments become more inclusive.

"Achieving success in science is challenging enough without the gender biases that negatively impact these women's careers," Richmond said. "Their stories of how our workshops have transformed their lives and increased their scientific productivity and self-worth are truly amazing."

In March, Richmond received the American Chemical Society's Award for Encouraging Women into Careers in the Chemical Sciences, sponsored by the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation.

At Oregon since 1985, Richmond is the Richard M. and Patricia H. Noyes Distinguished Professor of Chemistry. Her research in the development and use of laser-based techniques to study important processes at surfaces have led to many valuable discoveries of importance to chemistry, biology, physics and environmental science.

University of Oregon

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