AAAS Lecture Series on Women in Science and Engineering

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)

Participant:

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.

Magaly’s 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.

Magaly’s 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.

Magaly’s 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 didn’t 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 Magaly’s success were

  • Perseverance: Never give up. Find another way to accomplish the same goal if the previous one didn’t work. Don’t 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 opposite.
  • 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 doesn’t 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 don’t 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:

  • Women’s participation is strongest in medicine and natural/exact sciences (biology, biochemistry, ecology); and weakest in physics, engineering, technology and agricultural sciences
  • Women’s participation in decision-making positions and higher academic tenure positions is still much lower than that of men
  • From 1969 to 1999, women’s 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
Recommendations
  • 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 men’s "scientific clans"
  • Evaluation and award committees must include more women and more individuals sensitive to gender issues

 

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