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April 2000

The atmosphere inside: Surveying the climate for women at UCAR.

Harvard, Stanford, Rensselaer, NIST: each of these institutions has been surveyed by the Committee on the Status of Women in Physics of the American Physical Society (APS). Now UCAR is preparing to join their ranks. The goal is to assay the organizational climate and make recommendations that lead to enhanced recruitment, retention, and advancement of women scientists, and of all UCAR employees, male and female. A written survey tailored to NCAR is in preparation, and a site visit is planned for this summer. In the meantime, data are being gathered in house, and a new UCAR Diversity Task Force has been formed to provide ongoing guidance to the institution on a full range of diversity issues.

Starting a conversation

A small group of high-level women scientists met with NCAR director Bob Serafin in late spring of last year to discuss equity concerns. Coincidentally, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released results of a study by women faculty in its School of Science that found significant gender-based inequities in salary, allocation of space and computing resources, promotion, inclusion in leadership positions, and the overall climate. Bob asked Edna Comedy (associate vice-president for Human Resources) to look at the same issues at NCAR that were examined in the MIT report.

While HR's findings on salaries, space allocation, and other issues of concern in the MIT study are encouraging, some preliminary results are being examined more closely. (Staff Notes Monthly will report more on this process in the June issue.)

Meanwhile, the more-senior women conducted meetings that brought in female colleagues around UCAR, including associate scientists, project scientists, and postdocs. As they identified common issues and concerns, the proposal for an independent audit to assess the climate for women scientists at UCAR emerged.

Peggy LeMone (MMM) knew of the APS program through a scientist who had participated on a site-visit committee. As the UCAR group investigated the APS process, "we were favorably impressed," says Peggy. "The procedure was developed by prominent women physicists, the panels were staffed with prominent women physicists, and the visits had positive results that included a better climate for male as well as female students and faculty."

The APS program developed out of an NSF-funded study of 15 physics departments (including those at the universities mentioned above). Following the final report of that study, APS's Committee on the Status of Women in Physics agreed to continue its independent auditing service in order to improve the retention and career development of women in physics (and the other sciences) in academe, government, and industry.

Choosing auditors familiar with the world of physical science research was also important to the UCAR working group. "Since the APS visitors are practicing physical scientists, they bring a different perspective from that of social-science professionals who make equity issues their career," notes Peggy.

The proposal for an audit was approved at the June meeting of the UCAR Management Committee (UMC), and a few months later APS accepted UCAR's invitation to conduct a survey and site visit.

Next steps

Each APS committee is assembled for the specific site in question. Selection criteria, according to APS guidelines, include "enormous scientific stature," knowledge of the field being studied, and lack of involvement in day-to-day responsibility for operations of the organization.

APS has appointed astrophysicist Katherine Gebbie, director of the NIST Physics Laboratory in Gaithersburg, Maryland, to chair the NCAR audit. Because our organization is quite different from a university physics department, Gebbie has been consulting with a liaison group of UCAR and NCAR staff on the composition of the five-person committee and on the design of a written survey that will be mailed to scientific staff prior to the site visit. The statistics division of the American Institute of Physics will work with APS to validate the survey.

A new task force

As plans to study the climate for women developed last spring, it became clear to Edna and Bob that UCAR and NCAR would benefit from a task force charged with looking at the same issues for everyone. Discussions with division directors and others confirmed the need, and the Diversity Task Force was approved by the UMC and formed last fall with 12 members from across UCAR and NCAR. Maurice Blackmon (CGD) and Dave Carlson (ATD) are cochairs.

"I think people are enthusiastic, and we expect things to happen" from task force efforts, says Maurice. "I think it's everyone's goal that we have a good workplace," he adds, "some place where people would be happy to come to work, and welcoming to people regardless of gender, regardless of race. So that's what we're working for."

More on the task force and its projects will appear later in Staff Notes Monthly.

Zhenya Gallon

At press time the APS site visit was being planned for shortly after Tim Killeen's arrival (1 July). The written survey will be mailed to targeted staff just prior to the site visit. Watch for more information as plans develop in This Week at UCAR's daily announcements and Staff Notes Monthly.


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Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu
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