AAAS Lecture Series on Women in Science and
Mexico City, April 21-24 2003
National Forum on Science, Technology and Gender
Center for Interdisciplinary Research on Science and the Humanities
National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM)
Dr. Magaly Spector, Lucent Technologies
Dr. Spector was very pleased with her participation in the AAAS
program and the UNAM event and hoped that more of these programs will be
established to reach out to more people and help promote the interest of
women and minorities in science and engineering. Her goal for
participating in this program was to serve as a role model and to
inspire and encourage women and minorities, particularly Hispanics, to
contribute to science and technology development.
Magalys presentation was entitled "Liberating the creativity and
spirit of Hispanic women: two generations, from maid to scientist". Her
story inspired many women in Mexico because, in one way or another, most
of her experiences have been part of the lives of the majority of women
and minorities. She told her story in a very straight forward way, and
included elements with which the audience could identify. The way she
dealt with her failures can be extremely helpful to many women in
similar situations. In addition, she provided the perspective of women
working in the private sector, which in many ways, is even more
difficult to women than the academic or government sector. Given the
current economic difficulties faced by many corporations in the US
today, it is for women it is currently a challenge not only to be
promoted but even to remain in their jobs, because most layoff decisions
are made by men.
Magalys failures and successes brought tears and
courage to those in the audience. Her story as a scientist is a treasure
that she shared with the audience. Early on in her life, she decided to face
adversity with unrelenting perseverance, and was not willing to give up her
dreams. Reason, logic, and science were very important tools to
accomplish her goals. In Mexico, she conveyed the message that all of us
can make miracles happen by using these tools that science requires from
us. Understanding and solving a problem is one of the greatest
experiences a human being can have. It reaffirms our self confidence,
our meaning of life and our intellectual and emotional capability to
pursue higher goals.
Magalys experiences in life are connected to her scientific path.
Problem-solving, planning, focusing, goal-setting, risk-taking, working
in a team, and learning from her failures have all been critical to her
life as a scientist, as a mother, and as a human being. The lost of her
daughter was the most illogical and senseless tragedy that a person can
experience. It struck her at the core of her beliefs and aspirations,
but it didnt destroy her. Her daughter is with her every day of her
life, within nature, in her precious memories, in her struggles to
advance, in every person that her story can inspire and bring hope.
The key ingredients to Magalys success were
- Perseverance: Never give up. Find another way to accomplish the same goal if the previous one didnt work.
Dont let anybody to discourage you.
- Benevolent sense of life: Look at life with optimism, even under the most tragic situations. Never think wrong of another person unless proven the
- Learn from your failures: Life is a learning experience. Every day we will learn something different from the previous day. Try
to do the same thing better every time. Learn another language, meet new people, visit foreign countries.
- Get a mentor: Find and ask directly to a person who has enough influence and a good position to be your mentor. You will be surprised how many of
these people will be happy to do that. Explain to them your goals and how his or her advice and opening doors for you will make a difference in yours as well as his or her life. If one doesnt help, try another person.
Learn from their experiences.
- Plan and execute: It is important to execute even when we have to take a risk. If you dont try it will definitely not happen.
- Share your story with others without shame, we are all human beings and make a lot of mistakes. Somebody will benefit from your experiences.
Findings from the Forum
Current situation of women in science and technology in Mexico:
- Womens participation is strongest in medicine and natural/exact sciences (biology, biochemistry,
ecology); and weakest in physics, engineering, technology and agricultural
- Womens participation in decision-making positions and higher academic tenure positions is still much lower
than that of men
- From 1969 to 1999, womens attendance at UNAM tripled
- Mexico is undergoing affirmative action debates that are
proposing to impose a higher criteria for women to get into the university
- Some university officers fear that the higher number of women
with science and technology degrees could not be beneficial to the country
given the "loss of productivity" during maternity years
- Positive changes in the system have not been matched by changes
in the perception of society
- Many scientific awards have age limits that
affect women whose scientific "productivity" is delayed
due to maternity. This difference in recognition has subsequent
impacts on promotion and salaries
- 20% of the Mexican Academy of Sciences are women
- 33% of the National System of Researchers (SNI) are women
- While men get together after work or during weekends and
use this as networking opportunities, women must go back home to their families
- The situation of women in science in developed and developing
countries is similar in many ways
- Women working in the "hard" sciences are not familiar
with or sensitive to gender issues
- Use radio to reach out to more women
- Recover stories of women and their contributions, including
technicians and nurses
- Create and nurture informal networks, that can counterbalance
the role of mens "scientific clans"
- Evaluation and award committees must include more women and
more individuals sensitive to gender issues