Or: Why we forgot to invite any female scientists to our all-male conference...

So, the organizers of the 2015 International Congress of Quantum Chemistry (ICQC), scheduled for Beijing, recently got themselves into a bit of hot water. They posted a list of invitees - 29 speakers, chairs, and honorary chairs. All of them men. Because of course there are no women working theoretical chemistry these days who are of appropriate calibre to —- oh, wait, there are plenty of women working in the field, many of them much more qualified to speak than the invited speakers, but the organizers just didn't want to invite the girls to their party.

Fortunately, the eagle-eyed Emily Carter (founding director of the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment at Princeton University), Prof. Laura Gagliardi (chemistry professor at the University of Minnesota) and Anna Krylov (chemistry professor at the University of Southern California) are on the alert for these, um, 'oversights'. They organized a petition and sent it to the conference organizers. The petition quickly reached over 1500 signatures.

As noted on the Science Careers blog of Science Magazine , "research shows that including women on conference organizing committees leads to more women on programs. The honorary chairman, chairman, and three vice-chairmen of the ICQC 2015 organizing committee are all male; if the regular membership of the organizing committee was ever listed on the site, it has been removed."

The upshot is that the original list of participants has been removed, and a new "partial list of invited plenary speakers" that now includes six women among the 33 speakers.

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In a beautiful example of panicked mansplaining and fevered backtracking, the Science blog describes what happened once the petition went public:

"Soon after the petition was posted at change.org, the conference website put up an apology from the organizing committee for having posted a "partial list of speakers … which was imbalanced in several ways and has caused unnecessary misunderstanding." That message, which noted that the organizers were working on a "complete list of speakers with full considerations of area, research field, gender, interests broadness etc."

This was then replaced by a new apology version, which might be the best part of the whole exercise:

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"The committee understands that the posting of this partial list was inappropriate and offensive" and thanks the three professors for pointing out the error. "We hope that our premature posting of an all-male list will ultimately enhance public awareness of the pressing need for a better gender balance in science," the organizers write. "We extend our sincere apology to the entire scientific community." (emphasis added)

Emily Carter has boycotted all-male conferences for almost 15 years, while Anna Krylov is quoted as saying, "The pattern is always the same: we would alert conference organizers privately; they would patch the program by adding a few female speakers (often after the program has been released), sometimes, we would be attacked and chastised for being pushy; then, the next time around the story repeats itself."

Still, surely at some point a woman or two will make it on to these organizing committees and then the needle will start to move without the need for petitions and boycotts. Right?

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In the meantime, a tip of the hat to the three petition organizers for fighting the good fight, and also, to whoever writes those apologies at the Quantum Chemistry Congress organizing committee - those are gold (Au). Ten bucks says it was a woman.

Source: Boycotting All-Boy Conferences by Beryl Lieff Benderly (Science Careers blog, Science Magazine, March 4, 2014)

Image via: It's great to be a woman scientist; it's challenging to be a woman scientist by Stephanie Swift (SciLogs)