Gabriela Popescu, University of Buffalo and chair of the Biophysical Society’s Committee for Professional Opportunities for Women, shares her thoughts about the Committee’s place in a changing world, more than forty years after its inception.
As the incoming chair of the Committee for Professional Opportunities for Women (CPOW), I face an important question: More than 40 years since its inception, is CPOW still relevant to the needs of the Biophysical Society membership? To answer, one must determine whether the charge of the committee, its mission, has been accomplished and whether the membership still values this charge.
CPOW was charged by BPS to promote a culture of excellence, fairness, inclusion, and diversity; to highlight contributions by women biophysicists; to educate girls and women; and to assist the advancement and retention of women biophysicists. Indeed, since 1972, much has changed in how women biophysicists participate in the Society. For example, women now have strong representation in BPS leadership, among officers as well as within Council and committees; with very few exceptions all symposia and panels include women speakers; and it is much easier for parents of young children, whether women or men, to attend and participate in the Annual Meeting. Still, much change must be brought about to achieve the standards of fairness and inclusion stated in the CPOW charge.
Experts tell us that among chairs of biophysics departments across the US, very few are women; many more men are nominated for BPS awards and fellowships each year than women; and while overt bias is promptly sanctioned, as Tim Hunt will tell you, implicit bias still prevents women from contributing at their full potential. That meaningful work remains to be done is also reflected in the energy and commitment with which members engage with the CPOW mission.
On the most recent conference call, in which CPOW-sponsored events for the incoming Annual Meeting in Los Angeles were being discussed, 17 Committee members called in from six countries, and from many time zones! And the consensus was that in addition to the now-traditional events organized by CPOW, more can be done to fulfill the charge of excellence, fairness, inclusion, and diversity that BPS wants to extend to its women members.
Clearly CPOW will continue to be instrumental in helping the BPS achieve these endeavors. Our work is supported by other BPS officers, Council, and committees, with the Early Careers, Inclusion and Diversity, and Membership committees playing key roles. Most importantly, we will welcome input and participation by all BPS members, women as well as men, to make CPOW obsolete in the nearest future.