How AWIS started

The establishment of the group was one half of a two-part response to a Symposium on Women and Employment in Science and Technology that had been held in Wellington in 1985. In parallel was the establishment of a group to support teachers, both men and women, wanting to promote women’s and girls’ involvement in the sciences, subsequently called WISE (Women into Science and Engineering). 

The Symposium, which was oversubscribed with 100 attending, was the brainchild of CAWSE, the self-styled Council for the Advancement of Women in Science and Engineering, a group I convened to examine and address the issues for women in the sciences in New Zealand. Then a PhD student at Victoria University of Wellington, I had identified significant gender differences in attitude, uptake and performance in science, mathematics and engineering at New Zealand secondary and tertiary levels. The fifteen CAWSE members included fellow PhD student and NZAS Vice-President Karin Knedler (recently Director Policy, Ministry of Women’s Affairs) and senior women in the sciences and the public service.

The aim of the Symposium was to raise public awareness and to identify directions for action. Presentations by CAWSE members included a review of the position of women in employment in science and engineering in New Zealand, prepared by Janet Grieve and Penny Fenwick, then at the Department of Social Welfare Head Office (recently Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Academic) at Victoria University).

The inaugural meeting of the Association of Women in the Sciences was held in February 1986 in the home of Dr Janet Bradford-Grieve. Janet, then Senior Scientist at DSIR (later Science Programme Leader at NIWA, and FRSNZ), was the founding Secretary/Treasurer of the organisation, the only officer we felt we needed in those early days. 

Key to the shape of our evolving ‘women scientists’ support group’ was founding member Dr Ros McIntosh’s membership of the American Association for Women in Science Inc. Ros, then researcher at the Wellington Clinical School (later Associate Professor at Massey University), provided us with information on possible goals and structures.

[Edited from an original article by Janet Davies, then Associate Professor in Education, Massey University]