APS News

International Conference Grapples with Issues of Women in Physics

Concern over the low number of women in physics worldwide was one of the underlying themes at a groundbreaking international conference on women in physics, held , and organized by the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP). More than 300 delegates - about 15% male, and another 15% or more women in their early careers- in 65 national teams gathered to discuss such issues as attracting more girls into physics, balancing family and career, and getting more women into the physics leadership structure. Their job was not only to try to understand the severe under-representation but also to develop and implement strategies to increase women's participation in the physics community. By comparing differences between regions around the world, many new insights were gained. A list of 8 resolutions was passed unanimously by the delegates and can be read, along with a further list of recommendations, at http://www.if.ufrgs.br/˜barbosa/conference.cfm.

"It was an amazing experience to look out over a room filled with women physicists from all parts of the world," said Judy Franz, APS Executive Officer and Associate Secretary General of IUPAP, who, along with the IUPAP Working Group on Women in Physics took responsibility for organizing the conference. "Women from almost every country in Europe and North America as well as many African, Asian, and South American countries shared a common sense of commitment to physics and to women physicists."

While the conference may be over, the work certainly isn't. The teams returned home with renewed commitment. "I have never been to any conference as interesting and inspiring from the beginning to the end," wrote Corinna Kausch, a delegate from Germany. "I returned home with a lot of new energy!" Delegates plan to distribute the conference resolutions to physical societies and government agencies within their own countries and form strong networks to stay in touch with each other. As a result of the conference the European Physical Society has already voted to start a working group on women in physics, as have both the Japanese Physical Society and the Japanese Society of Applied Physics.

Prior to the conference, the IUPAP Working Group teamed with AIP's Statistical Research Center to complete an international study of women in physics, collecting demographic information from more than 900 women in 65 countries, including education and employment histories and individual experiences and concerns. "We were looking for critical moments that have either helped or hindered a woman's career," says Roman Czujko, who heads the Center. Results from this study will also be available at the conference website listed above.

IUPAP held an international conference on women in physics, 7-9 March 2002 in Paris, France.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette