The CWIS Board has been discussing this recently. What
follows is part of that conversation, initiated by CWIS President Lynn Billman.
The Board would like to hear from CWIS members on this topic and soon will open a
Q&A Forum at the CWIS website for members to respond and make suggestions.
Ever feel like God is trying to tell you something? I’ve had two entirely separate instances come
to my attention this week (actually in the same evening!) that are making me
review our CWIS mission. I don’t want to
knee-jerk a change, but I need some Christian counsel. And for this, you are it!
The part of our mission that I’m stumbling over is: “To encourage Christian women of all ages to
pursue, sustain, and grow in a career in science, technology, engineering or
math…” As I’ve looked at statistics of
men vs. women in STEM careers and leadership positions, my passion has been to
“right a wrong.” I still have this
But, what if the “wrong” is not a wrong, but a sincere
desire to put passion for family before passion for science/STEM? What is CWIS to Christian women who
thoughtfully choose NOT to pursue such a career (or abort or time-out) after
their education? This is coming up now
as I talk to more women about CWIS, within and outside of ASA. I tell them the CWIS mission, and they look
blankly at me, like, “yes, I got a PhD in electrical engineering or a BS in
psychology but I’m not interested in a career like that, because it takes me
away from my husband and family.” Is it
our place to try to talk them out of that?
What is our response? Two options
that come to my mind:
1. Is CWIS
simply not for them? – i.e., the response is, go forth and have your family,
and come back to CWIS if you decide you want to start/restart your STEM career
and then we’ll try to help and inspire you.
2. Or, should
CWIS have a broader mission? – i.e., to provide encouragement to pursue their
interest in science/STEM in non-career ways – ways to inspire their own
children, ways to help out at their children’s schools or camps with science,
ways to educate their congregations about science/STEM issues and topics, ways
to be involved in science-related policies in their area or nationally, ways to
otherwise stay involved with science, etc.
We can certainly open this up as a blog or forum (Q&A)
item, but as the CWIS Board, I’d appreciate your reactions first and
My first reaction is to say "Amen" to your point
As per our discussion, the experience in our family is
probably typical regarding women, STEM, and the Christian faith. Of my 6
'children' (includes spouses), 3 have PhD's in science (neuroscience, cognitive
psychology, and bio-engineering). One son-in-law has several Masters in
Environmental Engineering and Geotech, etc. So we are pretty well embedded in
the hard sciences.
The women (I'm including my niece also, a medical doctor),
are all married to very capable, high-level professional men, Christians, very
supportive of their wives whatever they choose. But when a decision is made to
have children in a marriage, it calls for a serious decision regarding career,
marriage and one's faith. In our case, the three women decided to be the one to
forego a fast-track career and stay home with children, at least for a while.
If there are circumstances that can make the decision easier (like nearby
grandparents willing to watch kids, being able to afford an nanny, husband
wanting to stay home, etc) that would help, but apart from these, my experience
shows that it will be extremely hard for a woman to pursue a demanding career
in the sciences, while also maintaining a healthy marriage and serving as a
mother to her children. It would be good to talk to someone who has done this
So if a Christian woman in science decides to step off the
career track, she feels like a 'failure' because it seems she has wasted her
education. On top of that, if she is involved in the average American
evangelical church, she has a part of her that she cannot share with her
friends or fellow believers. In many churches there is either a fear of
science, or even worse, a denigration of the work of scientists. This results
in tremendous ignorance, prejudice and closed-mindedness.
So this Christian woman trained in science is 'lost' in the
chasm between the church and the scientific world. It is a lonely place to be.
Finally, given all the hype about the need for people in
STEM, I have yet to see where there are many 'real' jobs, jobs that pay a
decent wage, that don't consume 60 hours per week, etc. Maybe at a lower level,
like a technician, or basic IT engineering, there are plenty, but where are
they at the higher levels, with cutbacks of government funding, university
education being in a transition mode, etc. Finally, there is the challenge of
competing with job applicants who are willing to work 60-70 hour weeks, because
career is first and foremost in their list of priorities.
There is a lot CWIS could offer - first of all, acceptance
of the situation and of the women who choose other priorities. They could be
encouraged to use their scientific knowledge to impact the church, the next
generation, their communities, as policy makers, and many other ways. They
could also be given a realistic view of careers in science and the options of
getting back into science once the 'kids are raised.'
I do think this would be a good subject for discussion.
Thanks for bringing it up.
BTW, I love the mission statement - "A Place to Connect!" That says it all.
Excellent points, and I know in my own life my husband and I
have had to make choices that weren't always the best for our careers because
that's what worked for us as a couple (we try to take turns).
At least for me personally, I would love it if CWIS were
involved in advocating for more family-friendly science practices. While there
are certainly times that long hours in the lab etc. are unavoidable, I think a
lot of it is a culture thing, which can be changed. Certainly we should be
supportive of women who have felt they had to leave science careers for their
families, but I also feel like we shouldn't have to choose. Especially considering
that most men do not have the same pressure to choose between science careers
and family, it should be possible to make it that way for women too.
I would second Kristen’s points. I think there are many ways
to pursue a STEM career without committing to 60+ hours a week. For example, my
appointment at Calvin is reduced load (~70% of a “normal” faculty workload)
which has made it possible for me to balance work and family. I also have
married colleagues who share a full-time position (so both mom and dad get to
work and spend time with the kids in equal measure). But, the availability of
more family-friendly STEM jobs depends on more employers being willing to offer
them. I see the perception that women have to choose between a STEM career and
a family as one of the main barriers for young women in choosing technical
I interpret STEM careers as much broader than just full time
PhD research or academic work. In my mind, nurses, elementary school science
teachers, and chem lab technicians also count as STEM careers. And for most
women, the early-childhood years are only a fraction of their working lives.
So, maybe our organization doesn’t have much to offer in support of the STEM
graduate who is currently at home with the kids, but those same moms may
eventually be back in professional STEM work (whether they want to connect with
a group like CWIS in the meantime would be a personal choice, depending on how
they identify themselves in relation to STEM and professional work). In terms
of righting wrongs, I see it as a very important justice issue that women have
access to well-paying careers in fields like engineering, especially in a
society where many women are not in a position to rely on a spouse with a
well-paying career to financially support them or their family.