Thoughts on Women’s Equality Day, August 26th, 2023

The 19th amendment empowered women to stand up and vote for what they believed in, and forever changed the landscape of our society. The impact of women’s access to vote in 1920 cast ripples through time and contributed to where we are today. Women now have the freedom to pursue higher education, the ability to become scientists and engineers, and the independence to choose their futures.

So, what is Women’s Equality Day, and why is it celebrated on August 26?

The roots of Women’s Equality Day started in 1945. Proclamation 2671, written by President Harry S. Truman, designated November 2 as Women’s Enfranchisement Day in honor of the 25th anniversary of the first election in which women were allowed to vote.  Unfortunately, this date did not gain any traction, and it wasn’t until years later that the 19th amendment was again recognized by a president.

In 1973, Congresswomen Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm, and Patsy Mink pressured Congress and the president to celebrate women’s achievements and recognize the progress of women’s equality. They persisted, they fought for their beliefs, and they cast ripples through time.

Proclamation 4236, written by President Richard Nixon, officially declared August 26 as Women’s Equality Day. The day marked the anniversary of Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signing the document granting American women the constitutional right to vote.

The persistence, the determination, and the tenacity of those women solidified our place in history.

“While we are making great strides to eliminate outright job discrimination because of sex in the Federal Government, we must recognize that people’s attitudes cannot be changed by laws alone. We must do all that we can to overcome these barriers against what is fair and right.” (Nixon, Proclamation 4236)

These words still apply today. Attitudes cannot be changed by laws alone. Attitudes are changed through educating our peers, reaching out to our communities, and reminding young girls that they can be whatever they want to be when they grow up.

The Department of Energy national laboratories recognize the call to action to promote and retain women in science and technology. Each year, Argonne hosts several outreach events for grade school and high school girls to educate them on the possibilities of pursuing a STEM education and overcoming barriers. These events open doors to a career path they may not have thought possible.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Women’s Equality Day. Since 1973, each U.S. President has formally written a proclamation recognizing August 26 to commemorate this monumental milestone in women’s history. As we continue our journey toward equality and diversification, let us stand up for what we believe in and cast ripples into the next century.

If you are interested in learning more to support women in science and technology, please join wisttalk or reach out to Program Initiator Rebecca Yassan.


A Message from the Outgoing WIST Program Initiator, Lauren Boldon

I’m thrilled to announce that the next WIST Program Initiator (PI) will be transitioning into the position during the month of August with an official start date in September! I’m confident that WIST will continue to thrive and progress the mission and Argonne’s culture further under this new leadership. While I’m very excited to see the direction the next PI takes, this time is also bittersweet for me, especially as I look back on all that WIST has accomplished and worked towards during the two years of my term in the role.

When I first became the WIST PI, we started by conducting focus group interviews and an overarching program management review to better understand the perceptions of WIST, program management needs, and the development of informed short- and long-term objectives. The results of these sessions, combined with WIST’s mission and the input of many WIST contributors, led to the development of campaigns in the following areas:

  1. Increase visibility of the program mission across other DEIA efforts, with Argonne leadership and all employees;
  2. Integrate and collaborate with relevant laboratory stakeholders, especially the Argonne Leadership Institute, Educational Programs, and the Employee Resource Groups (ERGs);
  3. Influence outcomes of laboratory policy discussions relevant to WIST and broader DEIA objectives; and
  4. Enhance professional growth and networking opportunities to promote and develop women at the Lab.

To these ends, I’m so pleased with the progress made on all four fronts, and this is in no doubt due to all the support provided to WIST from across the Lab, but especially from our In-Reach and Outreach Subcommittees, the Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day (IGED) and Science Careers in Search of Women (SCSW) Organizing Committees, and in particular the Co-Chairs of all these groups. What is truly impressive is WIST affected change in all four of the areas listed, while conducting very successful in-person IGED and SCSW outreach events to hundreds of female students in the Chicagoland area and beyond!

In terms of visibility, we saw a large expansion in interest in both subcommittees, enabling us to identify more challenges and opportunities and to develop creative approaches and solutions to them. Some of the most visible results include a refreshed WIST website, a new bimonthly e-newsletter with a Women@Argonne Spotlight Series, and rebranding of WIST materials and messaging to Open to All to enhance engagement across the entire Lab. WIST also actively engaged in broader DEIA discussions with the ERGs, DEIA Councils, Lab Leadership, and ALI, bringing the outcomes and results of those interactions to bear in collaborative discussion about  what WIST should pursue and how to best leverage laboratory resources to do so.

In terms of integration and collaboration, WIST connected directly with Institutional Partnerships STEM Education team and the Hispanic Latino Club (HLC) and Argonne African American (AAA) ERGs to develop a new joint outreach event to underrepresented students in Chicago Public Schools. See Yourself in STEAM is taking place in November 2023, and I am grateful to the STEM Education team for their expertise in engaging with students as well as their community engagement analysis of the Chicagoland area to help us develop an engaging program. I look forward to seeing these partnerships grow as WIST plans future outreach events, such as Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day (IGED) and Science Careers in Search of Women (SCSW).

In terms of Laboratory policy impact, WIST raised issues surrounding (1) equity in attribution for patents and publications that led to participation in broader research integrity discussions and the provision of recommendations for standardizing expectations across all Laboratory facilities; and (2) the inclusion of DEIA into the performance review process that led to WIST’s development of specific guidance that was discussed in detail senior laboratory leadership, ALI, and HR. We will continue to advocate in these areas and others, as is part of our mission.

Finally, WIST launched several professional development and networking opportunities, including the year long Mentoring Circles program focused on small-group peer-to-peer mentoring, and the WIST Podcast Discussion Series, focused on mental/emotional health related topics and in partnership with HEW.

As my term as WIST PI comes to an end, I would like to personally thank all the individuals that brought concerns and challenges forward, formulated ideas, developed and worked towards solutions that WIST could push forward, and coordinated and managed our complex outreach events. WIST is very much a program that requires individual contributions of time and expertise, as well as continued joint efforts and partnerships. I look forward to seeing what all of WISTs contributors will do in the future!


Lauren Boldon

Spotlight: Lei Cheng

July 2022 Edition

Lei Cheng, Chemist, MSD

Growing up in China, Lei Cheng had hoped to travel and see the wide range of wonders throughout the country. By the time she was old enough to do it, she was an undergraduate chemistry major at Qingdao University. Money she might have spent traveling was earmarked for advancing her studies and pursuing professional dreams.

Cheng, today a chemist in Argonne’s materials science division and the focus area lead for JCESR, has been living and working in the United States for at least a dozen years. But, she still dreams of taking that trip.

“If I had a month to do whatever I wanted, I’d probably go to China to visit my family and travel,” she said. She spoke from a hotel room where she had quickly dialed in after a domestic flight and a rushed drive from the airport. When asked if she would take her two young daughters, ages two and six, along for the experience, she reflected that she’d probably go on her own.

“During family time, I really focus on quality and try not to think about work in order to reduce my stress,” said Cheng. “I take my responsibilities at this stage of their young lives very seriously, but it’s important that my daughters see that I have a life and that [women] can advance their professional careers at a lower intensity. We don’t give up.”

Cheng has always been drawn to chemistry, math and physics. They seemed “more real” to her than other subjects, and her curiosity and interest were encouraged and rewarded. Developing a career, she became involved in battery research at Argonne. The field has proven to be a satisfying way she can accomplish her personal goal: make meaningful, concrete contributions to society and improve how people live through the advances of chemistry.

“I am a research scientist developing materials for next generation batteries so I get to work with knowledgeable colleagues in a multidisciplinary team to advance technology,” she explained. “Collaborating and accomplishing big things is fun. I believe if you work on what interests you, you will persevere.”

Her advice to other women interested in pursuing careers in science and technology is to be open and proactive when interested in advancement.

“Too many times I hear people say, ‘I didn’t know she was interested,’” said Cheng. “Take the simple step of letting leadership know your career goals and ambitions.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cheng has been unable for three years to travel internationally or see distant family. But, as restrictions lift, it’s likely Cheng will meet her goal sooner rather than later. She continues to try to work efficiently, set small goals, give each area of life its due, and know when to say no. With that approach, it’s easy to believe Cheng’s dream of exploring new parts of the world is just a matter of time.

Reflecting on Science Careers in Search of Women 2022

A message from the SCSW Co-Chairs, Lauren Boldon & Emily Zvolanek:

Science Careers in Search of Women (SCSW) was held virtually on Friday, April 29th for more than 110 high-school girls across the Chicagoland area. The goal of SCSW is to inspire young women to pursue careers in science, bringing them virtually to Argonne for a day of lectures, tours, career booth exhibits, and mentoring.

While the virtual atmosphere is different than in-person, the students remained engaged throughout the day and were excited to see the virtual tours and videos of the Materials Engineering Research Facility (MERF), Advanced Photon Source (APS), and EcoCar. Additionally, they were very interested in the experiences of the keynote speakers – Dr. Lori Ann Post, Director of the Institute for Public Health and Medicine at Northwestern University, and Michelle Larson, President and CEO of Adler Planetarium.

The students connected with Argonne scientists in fields of interest to them via the career panels and career booths, as well as in small group sessions with scientists. Meanwhile, teachers were provided an opportunity to listen to lectures from Argonne scientists, as well as network and engage with each other in a parallel teacher panel.

SCSW could not have happened without the support of the broader Laboratory community, but WIST would especially like to thank the Organizing Committee, Career Panel and Booth presenters and moderators, and the small group session volunteers.