Clarification added on 18 Feburary*.
Scientists are being urged to boycott a major international chemistry conference after its preliminary list of invited speakers and chairs featured no women.
An open letter on the website Change.org has called for a boycott of the 15th International Congress of Quantum Chemistry (ICQC), to be held in Beijing in June 2015. The move came after a list was posted on the conference website that allegedly showed no women among 24 speakers and 5 chairs and honorary chairs. The list, screenshots of which were seen by Nature, has since been taken down.
According to a blog by chemist Christopher Cramer of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, the organizers had invited 27 scientists as speakers, only one of whom was a woman.
The letter, which has gained more than 600 signatures in 48 hours, was authored by three eminent theoretical chemists: Emily Carter of Princeton University in New Jersey; Laura Gagliardi of the University of Minnesota; and Anna Krylov of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
It reads: “It happened again — another major theoretical chemistry conference features an all-male program. One of us began boycotting such conferences 14 years ago and can’t believe that 14 years later we are still seeing such overt discrimination.”
In an e-mail to Nature, Josef Michl, president of the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science (IAQMS), which runs the congress, said that the three letter writers had pointed out “a very serious problem” and were “justifiably concerned” with the partial list, which accounted for two-thirds of the eventual speakers.
According to Michl, Zhigang Shuai, a theoretical chemist from Tsinghua University who heads the conference organizing committee, had already asked Michl to send academy members the partial list and ask for suggestions of speakers — specifically women — to complete the line-up. The response to this had been excellent and the final list would be gender-balanced, Michl adds.
Michl says that it had been a mistake to release a partial and very imbalanced list, because “it can easily be misinterpreted”, adding that he would be sending a letter of apology to the three signatories and members of the IAQMS. Michl’s letter, a draft of which has been seen Nature, adds that a large fraction of the people already on the list were outside the control of the organizing committee, including medalists and newly elected IAQMS members and previous organizers.
However, Carter says that asking for female speakers after publicizing the all-male list of speakers looked like “tokenism” and that organizers should have solicited advice long before posting the list. “Asking afterward definitely is a subtle message that we ‘need to add some women, let’s just dig around the dregs’,” she says.
“There are mediocre scientists of both genders, but there are also outstanding scientists of both genders. And to not have bothered to think about this — or to think about the message it sends to every young scientists when you have a meeting that only has men speaking — is deeply discouraging,” she says. “This happens over and over again, and it’s not reasonable.”
Organizers of the ICQC say, however, that the message sent to members, which included the partial list of 24 speakers and request for further suggested speakers — specifically women — was sent on 9 February. This was done before the partial list was posted on the conference website, on 14 February.
The letter includes a link to the Women in Theoretical Chemistry web directory, which lists more than 300 female scientists holding tenured and tenure-track academic positions or equivalents in related areas. “Many of these women are far more distinguished than many of the men being invited to speak at these conferences,” the letter reads.
*The article was amended to include the ICQC organizers’ clarification that the request for additional speakers was sent out five days before the list was posted on the website.