Public Release: 

New study says women and their managers differ on career advancement in chemical companies

Mentoring is important to success

National Science Foundation

During this Women's History Month, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has released a report called It's Elemental, the results of a 3-year study of women's careers in the chemical industry. The first study of its kind, the findings reveal that women and their managers have differing attitudes and perceptions about career advancement.

"While there have been some surveys of women on academic career tracks, no comprehensive work exists on women and their managers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) intensive industrial settings," said Judith Giordan, who is currently on detail from the University of Southern Mississippi as a program director for NSF's Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship Program. "As industry is the largest employer of these graduates, we wanted to determine and share how women can get ahead and what could hold them back from the career success they want."

One finding reveals that managers, particularly male managers, rated the ability to relocate higher than women did as a factor for career success. Whereas women rated two items as high on their list--"blowing your own horn is a key element for success and recognition" and "...to be on highly visible projects where contributions can be recognized and rewarded"--managers rated those components as lower priorities for career advancement.

Another finding was that some women still perceive sexist discrimination, which may impact their career advancement. Women who felt positive about their work environments reported lower levels of discrimination. The results indicate that top-level managers still need to develop and enforce policies and initiatives to combat sexism in the workplace.

"It's very clear from the data that women want to advance, and they're willing to do what it takes," said Ruth Fassinger, principal investigator for the project and professor and interim chair of the Department of Counseling and Personnel Services at the University of Maryland, College Park. "Women stated they want support and opportunities to get ahead. To go along with this, both the women and managers we surveyed said that mentoring is hugely important. We are conducting a follow-up study on mentoring so that we can better understand how it can be successfully structured."

Researchers compared women with their managers in five critical areas: success and advancement; workplace support and climate; mentoring; home-work intersection; and company initiatives. Each chapter includes an analysis of the data. Key points and recommendations for managers and companies are offered at the end of each chapter.

"While women are taking on leadership roles in STEM industries, the number of women in those roles and the rate at which it is happening is disappointingly slow," said Giordan. "Opportunities for the next generation of women to thrive in industrial settings will increase as younger women coming up through the pipeline are better informed and prepared."

Career development workshops are planned for women in undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral positions to help them prepare and learn from the findings. The report has been sent to senior managers at more than 50 companies.

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The study was conducted by the University of Maryland, College Park, under a grant from NSF.

Industry managers who would like to discuss the report can contact Fassinger or Giordan at rfassing@umd.edu or judith.giordan@usm.edu. The report, It's Elemental: Enhancing Career Success for Women in the Chemical Industry, is available at http://www.education.umd.edu/EDCP/enhance_site/.

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