Women in Chemistry Initiative launched

November 24, 2015 by Mandy Koroniak

Students in Chemistry have a new student group to support them as they move through their studies, thanks to Jennifer Tsoung, who launched the group in 2014, and Christine Le, who currently serves as president. The idea behind the Women in Chemistry Initiative, also known as Women in Chemistry Toronto (WICTO), is to provide both formal and informal opportunities for women in the department to meet and network, and also to advocate for women in science.

The persistent gender gap for women in science, particularly in academia and leadership roles, reinforces the need for this group, says Le. She and her Women in Chemistry colleagues want to understand the factors that contribute to this and support women already working in chemistry, and encourage future generations of chemists. The group, which has received support from both the department and Chem Club, provides opportunities for chemists (both men and women) to network and discuss issues relevant to women in science, host social activities, and have also organized a lectureship series.

The inaugural lecture was given by new faculty member Professor Sophie Rousseaux, and the second by Professor Molly Shoichet, who is the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science North American laureate for 2015. The focus of the series is to showcase successful women in all types of careers, from academia to industry, business, and entrepreneurship. “Providing role models of successful women is very important,” says Le. “That’s how people become motivated.” The group has also installed a family room in the Lash Miller building, participated in a Girls in STEM conference to empower the future generation of scientists, and has established a newsletter for those interested in the group’s activities.

Going forward, the group hopes to become involved in more outreach activities, and connect with women in chemistry at other universities. They would like to reach out to girls in elementary school or high school to emphasize that it is possible to pursue a career in science, irrespective of gender.

While Women in Chemistry groups can be found throughout the US and the American Chemical Society maintains a Women Chemists Committee, this appears to be a niche need that is largely unrealized in Canada, which is something that Women in Chemistry hopes to change. They first aim to connect with women working in chemistry at other institutions in the GTA, such as York and Ryerson, and in the future, may advocate for a group within the Chemical Institute of Canada. In the meantime, the group will focus on the needs of current students, and will host their first professional development workshop, created specifically for women in chemistry. Le hopes that by providing an additional support system and training for female graduate students in chemistry, they can begin to realize their own potential as future leaders in academia, industry, and business.

Participation in Women in Chemistry is open to all, and in addition to graduate students, the group’s member base includes many female professors, lecturers, and school teachers. Women in Chemistry would especially like to encourage alumni to connect, and interested parties can reach the group at womeninchemto@gmail.com or via the social media channels FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.