Schools need to encourage young girls to hold onto their
periodic table of the elements.
This is the message Madeleine Jacobs, American Chemical Society
executive director and chief executive officer, sent to a mainly
female audience of students in a packed classroom at the Chemistry
Jacobs spoke in an event sponsored by ADVANCE, a University
organization dedicated to hiring more women. ADVANCE has been in
effect for more than a year, during which time the University has
said it has made significant gains in hiring female faculty.
Between September 2002 and September 2003, the University hired 43
women as science and engineering faculty.
In addition, last year the Michigan Student Assembly voted to
support efforts to increase the number of minority and women
faculty at the University.
Jacobs fused her own personal experience with data in an effort
to educate the University community about what can be done to
provide more opportunities for women in the sciences.
“The most frustrating thing to see is so little
progress,” Jacobs said regarding the advancement of women in
As a student at George Washington University in the mid-1960s,
Jacobs never had a female lab assistant, assistant professor or
professor. But she said, “I knew the situation would change
because 50 percent of my class was women.”
Yet despite her hopeful predictions, Jacobs expressed
frustration when she said an article she wrote more than 30 years
ago discussing gender inequalities in the chemistry field could
well apply to the current environment for women in higher
But Jacobs said the situation is improving. She illustrated in
graphs and charts that the percentages of women in the sciences
since 1972 have dramatically increased, especially for women in
Jacobs said she looks at annual reports to gather information
about women in chemical companies. “There is a slight
increase in the number of women on the board of directors, but in
2003 no (chemical) company had a woman CEO, COO or CFO,” she
Jacobs explained why more women getting science degrees does not
translate into business achievements, attributing the problem to
“pipeline” issues: Social tradition guides women into
excelling in certain fields, but rarely chemistry. “Pipelines
do not empty into a neutral pond,” Jacobs said.
She later added, “Women are not claiming the corner office
because they are not getting the business of business.” One
aspect she pointed to is the lack of mentoring by their male
colleagues. Another, Jacobs added, is a lack of women’s
Jacobs said women have to work hard to ameliorate the situation,
citing a 1999 study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
that found biases against females among the school’s faculty.
She added that women comprised a mere 8 percent of the science
faculty for 20 years, through 1999.
Also in 1990, a male university professor at a top university
favored a male job candidate over a female one because of the
perception he had that his students would respect the male
applicant more, Jacobs said. Jacobs did not disclose his name.
“Change comes when people at the top are committed,”
Jacobs said. She added that the University of Michigan has a strong
commitment to recruiting women.
Rackham student Allison Dick agreed with Jacobs’s comment
about women in chemistry at the University. “The University
is making a conscious effort to hire more women faculty as well as
grad students,” Dick said.
Jacobs adheres to a list that she insisted could help women
excel in chemistry. It includes such advice as being open to
change, being a mentor and seeking collaborations with peers.
“It was good for me to hear from someone who is so
successful that it is important for me to have a life outside of
work,” Dick added, regarding one of Jacobs’s top 10
pieces of advice.