Another top woman at the International Construction Superconference

The impressive line-up of women speakers taking part in the 4th International Construction Superconference in London in May had a further boost this week with the announcement that Ambassador Donna Hrinak of Steel Hector Davis is joining the panel for the innovative business session The Changing Face of International Construction. Ambassador Hrinak brings many years of diplomatic experience in the Americas, including Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, and a particular knowledge of government relations, contracts and procurement.

Ambassador Hrinak will join Nadia Riffat, Head of Planning at the Municipality of Tripoli, BirgitteBrinch Madsen, who is Director of the Danish firm COWIconsult’s new energy division in China and Faith Wainwright, director of Arup in London.

Business session chair Sandi Rhys Jones of ICONdirect says, “I am delighted to have the opportunity of bringing together such a powerful group of women to debate the challenges and risks of the global market place in construction and development. It promises to be a fascinating business session.”

Particular thanks go to conference sponsors Women in Business International.

First woman head at MIT calls for more science funding

Susan Hockfield, head of world-renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), warns that the US is losing its technological edge. In an interview with the Financial Times, she calls for re-invigoration and inspiration and the need for a rapid reversal of funding cuts in basic research.

Susan Hockfield is the first woman and the first life scientist to be appointed president of the traditionally male-dominated engineering school. Her comments follow a series of recent studies by education and business organisations expressing concern about US schoolchildren’s performance in maths and science, the falling number of Americans winning awards and getting published in science publications and fewer university students selecting to focus on physical science and engineering.

Shortly after her appointment in December, Susan Hockfield’s gender attracted even more attention when Larry Summers, president of Harvard, the neighbouring university, sparked a national debate on women in maths and science. At a private conference in January, Dr Summers questioned the ‘intrinsic’ abilities of women in those fields and suggested that biology might be to blame for their under-representation on university faculty.

MIT’s record in encouraging women compares favourably against that of Harvard. In 1999, Susan Hockfield’s predecessor Charles Vest acknowledged that MIT had discriminated against female faculty in pay and other areas, and set a goal of achieving gender equity in the future. The number of female professors has risen from 96 to 169 during Vest’s tenure, but they still constitute only 18% of the faculty.

Responding to the furore, Susan Hockfield joined with fellow Presidents John Hennessy of Stanford University and Shirley Tilghman of Princeton University to produce a joint statement. The trio pointed out, “The question we must ask as a society is not ‘can women excel in math, science and engineering?’ — Marie Curie exploded that myth a century ago — but ‘how can we encourage more women with exceptional abilities to pursue careers in these fields?’ Extensive research on the abilities and representation of males and females in science and mathematics has identified the need to address important cultural and societal factors. Speculation that “innate differences” may be a significant cause of under-representation by women in science and engineering may rejuvenate old myths and reinforce negative stereotypes and biases.

As for Lawrence Summers’ response – apart from saying his unscripted remarks were misconstrued – he has announced the establishment of two University-wide task forces to develop concrete proposals to reduce barriers to the advancement of women faculty at Harvard and in academic careers more broadly.

CBI hosts two day Diversity conference

The CBI is hosting a major two-day conference on diversity on 14 and 15 March at the QEII Conference Centre in London. The focus is on moving from accepting equal opportunities and the need for compliance to recognising that diversity is integral to the success and effectiveness of every organisation.

The conference will bring together many of the nation’s leading employers – from the private, public and voluntary sectors – to explore and exchange best-practice ideas, and to debate the ways in which the agenda will move forward. Speakers include Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt MP, Patti Bellinger of BP, Lynne Burns of Royal Bank of Scotland, Annette Williams of the UK Resource Centre for Women in SET.

Director General Digby Jones says, “With skills shortages, a strong economy and challenges to be met on social inclusion and business reputation, there’s a compelling business case for diversity. Achieving genuine diversity is a win/win for Britain.”