Letter from the President
[Sine Larsen] Sine Larsen

This first page of the Newsletter gives me as IUCr President a unique opportunity to bring up matters, where I would like to get feedback from crystallographers. I hope therefore that some of the crystallographers who read this letter will contact me with their ideas and comments. One of the things that surprised me after my election at the congress in Osaka was that, in addition to the many congratulations from friends and colleagues I knew, many young female crystallographers I did not previously know, came to greet and congratulate me, expressing that they were happy to see a woman as president of the IUCr. I have always thought of myself as a scientist and had not considered that the fact that I am also a woman should be of special interest. Naturally I was happy to be congratulated by female crystallographers I did not know before, but it also gave rise to reflections on why the election of a woman as president caused such reactions from female crystallographers. Crystallography is a scientific area that has always been attractive to women, and compared to other disciplines like physics, the gender balance is very good in our community. Therefore it is surprising that this gender balance is not reflected to the same degree in the commissions and committees of the IUCr. Out of 20 commissions six are chaired by women, but the representation is not as good for the Executive Committee. The IUCr has had two female vice-presidents, Dame Kathleen Lonsdale and Iris Torriani, and two presidents, Dorothy Hodgkin and myself. It seems generally accepted that an optimally functioning committee should not be composed of either men or women, but have both genders represented around the meeting table. This gender imbalance in more managerial/executive positions seems to be an unfortunate general trend in all areas of the natural sciences. This issue seems to be of great interest to many female and male crystallographers and was demonstrated by their attendance at the special evening session held during the Osaka congress on 'The Future of Female Crystallographers; activities to increase the number of women scientists in each country' (see Page 13). Five prominent female crystallographers at different stages in their career gave presentations either about initiatives for female scientists in their countries or a personal account of the persons and factors that had played an important role in their career. It was very impressive to learn from Kazue Kurihara about all the initiatives that are made in Japan to promote women scientists, and from Judith Howard about her involvement in the activities in UK along the same lines. The personal accounts by Jenny Glusker and Louise Johnson on their career development were very illustrative and showed the importance of husbands and mentors. Gender diversity at a large research infrastructure was addressed by the youngest of the five speakers, Irena Margiolaki. It was clear from the talks that mentors and role models are very important. The talks were followed by lively discussions involving the audience on why too many women decide to leave their otherwise promising career and why female scientists choose not to be involved in more administrative aspects of scientific life, during which many wise comments were made from the mixed audience. I remember clearly one made by Sally Price, U. of London, who said that when women chose a scientific career it was because they loved to do science and possibly therefore found science administration less attractive.

For a continued fruitful development of our science it is valuable to have a more balanced gender representation in the IUCr commissions and committees. Is it really true that women do not want these jobs, is it because they are not proposed as members by their colleagues, or do you have another explanation?

Please send me an e-mail if you have any answers or comments to these questions.

Sine Larsen (larsen@esrf.eu)