On the Threshold of Opportunity

October 11, 2010

This is the fourth of several blogs from AAUW Chief of Strategic Advancement Jill Birdwhistell written during her recent trip to Paris on behalf of AAUW to attend a UNESCO conference.


United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

Yesterday I discussed the difficulties women around the world face in entering and staying in science, engineering, and technology careers (SET). Today I continue that discussion by suggesting what we can do to mitigate some of those factors.

For AAUW, it isn’t just enough to be observers of tragic reality, nor is it enough to inform, facilitate and promote the dialogue about necessary change. We have always taken responsibility for initiating real solutions to the barriers to women’s achievement. For almost 130 years, through research, advocacy, litigation, and programs, we have helped to advance gender-based knowledge, fight sex discrimination, and change policies. Worldwide, however, AAUW is probably best known for the funds we provide for the graduate education of women from countries throughout the world as well as those from the United States.

We’ve always pushed the envelope, pressing for graduate education, equal employment opportunities at all levels, funding plaintiffs in gender-based workplace discrimination litigation, and in doing so, we’ve been strategy leaders. AAUW has created models and set the stage for others to join us as we break through barriers for women and girls.

Once again, we are on the threshold of opportunity, with the intersection of technology and innovative potential before us. We are committed to destroying barriers to women’s success in science, technology ,and engineering. Yet, as AAUW members, we are all too clear about the real demands of family, work, and geography, as well as the pervasive and threatening sociocultural forces that limit women’s advancement, particularly in SET.

We are at the crossroads, however, of technology and educational advancement. We have an astounding opportunity to examine electronic methodologies to provide access to those for whom mobility is the ultimate barrier to a SET career. I am proposing that we begin to examine how AAUW can innovate through distance learning to provide access to higher education to the scholars, researchers, and technologists so needed in their home countries—and by all of us—but for whom mobility is a barrier too difficult to break.

I am suggesting no reduction of rigor; in fact, I am recommending a feedback loop to monitor progress and develop ongoing relationships with students that would promote understanding and collaboration as well as a measure of quality control. This is a suggestion for consideration of a pilot initiative that would involve thought leaders in distance learning and the advice of scholars in institutions where this modality is already working effectively.

It is impossible to engage as an AAUW representative in this expert group meeting on gender, science, and technology, co-sponsored by UNESCO and the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women, without being changed and challenged at the same time. And since I was the representative on this occasion, I felt obligated to be open to need and opportunity—in this case, it was easy. It hit me over the head that, among this group, and our many collaborators at the U.N., AAUW has friends across the world who are leaders in gender-based innovations in SET and who share our dedication to expanding opportunities for women in these fields. My recommendation is that we ask their help in once again developing a breakthrough model of educational support that others may follow in the future—just as AAUW has done so often in the past.

part 1 |  part 2 |  part 3 |  This is part 4  |  part 5

Jill Birdwhistell By:   |   October 11, 2010

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