March is Women’s History Month, a good time to reflect on the outstanding achievements of women in science, overcoming not just the usual challenges of deciphering the universe but also a professional landscape littered with gender-based obstacles.
Still looming large in the rear-view mirror of history is a shameful era of overt discrimination that extended even to giants of physics. Lise Meitner co-discovered and correctly interpreted nuclear fission, a process that had fooled Enrico Fermi. Chien-Shiung Wu discovered parity violation, an experimental result so surprising that Wolfgang Pauli wouldn’t believe it until Leon Lederman and others independently confirmed it. Both Meitner and Wu were snubbed by the Nobel committee, although the brilliance and importance of their discoveries are now universally recognized. Closer to home we have, at least occasionally, done better: Helen Edwards’ leadership in the creation of the Fermilab Tevatron has been appropriately acknowledged with the Ernest Lawrence Award, the National Medal of Technology and a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship.
I am happy to announce the launch this month of the Fermilab Women’s Initiative. This initiative will sponsor events aimed at educating all employees about the ways in which women affect our workplace and the importance of promoting gender equality. The kickoff is next Monday at 3 p.m. in One West, where writer Hannah Bloch will discuss global women’s issues.
We hope and expect the series of events, which highlights a variety of perspectives, to cause some reflection and generate conversation and action that has a positive impact on the culture of our laboratory. Although organized by women, it is critical that men are part of the conversation (guys, that means you).
Don’t miss the chance to follow the program and participate in the dialogue.