(As prepared)

Good morning, everyone; it is a pleasure to be here. Thank you Meridian and Women in Science Diplomacy Association for bringing us together to kick off the Week of Women and Girls in Science.

Frank, thank you for your kind introduction and for all the good work Meridian does.

I am so pleased to be here today with a partner like Meridian. My bureau –the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs– works particularly closely with Meridian on the U.S. Science Envoy program. This program recruits top U.S. scientists and sends them globally to promote and advocate for international science cooperation. They represent the very best of America, and I am proud that in 2023, six out of the seven envoys were women. That sends a powerful message. We will announce the 2024 roster soon and look forward to another fantastic year of overseas engagement with the Envoys leading the way. This year, we have recruited a Science Envoy for Space Affairs, where women historically have been underrepresented. We would like to build capacity to promote and advance gender equality in the space sector.

Let us put today in a bit of historical context and go back to 1969, to a particular Friday afternoon at Yale. Some science grad students and professors had gathered for their weekly social hour.

In the 1969 Yale admitted female undergraduates for the first time. It is not that long ago, but things were different then.

One of the students at the gathering was Margaret Rossiter. She was 24 years old and was pursuing a graduate degree in the history of science. According to an article in the Smithsonian Magazine, Rossiter tossed out a question: “Were there ever women scientists?”

According to Rossiter’s telling, the answer was – No; Never; None. The professors did acknowledge Marie Curie, but they claimed that actually she was just helping her husband, the real genius. Evidently, they had forgotten that she was awarded not one, but two, Nobel Prizes.

I mention this incident because it struck Ms. Rossiter as being odd. Later after she became Dr. Rossiter, she did something about it. After years of research, she wrote the book Women Scientists in America, published in 1982.

She actually wrote three books on the topic. The first book covered the period up to 1940, the second volume to 1972, and third volume, up to the time of its publication in 1998.

Rossiter reminds us of what we already know: although her books were about scientists in the United States, she reminds us that women have always contributed to the advancement of science throughout history. They did not always get credit, but some did. Just look at the Nobel Prize winners: for the prize in Chemistry – eight women winners, in Physics – five women winners, and in medicine – 13 women received the prize.

It will not surprise you, but these women did extraordinary things.

Take Gerti Cori, for example. Born in Prague, Dr. Cori moved to the United States in 1922. She shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1947, the same year she received a professorship at Washington University in St. Louis. Her research on how the human body uses energy, or as the Nobel Committee put it: “for their discovery of the course of the catalytic conversion of glycogen,” was the basis for the award.

More recently there is Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna. Dr. Doudna was born here in Washington, DC. They shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2020 for developing a method for high-precision genome editing. According to the Nobel Committee, this development “can lead to new scientific discoveries, better crops and new weapons in the fight against cancer and genetic diseases.”

As we advocate for women and girls to have every opportunity that their brothers have in science and engineering, we are simply pointing at the past and saying “see, imagine what your daughters are capable of doing. Imagine what YOU are capable of doing!”

Yale recognized this point when in 2017, it renamed one of its residential colleges after Grace Murray Hopper. Dr. Hopper received her Masters and Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale in the 1930s and became a pioneer of computer programming–as well as a Navy rear admiral. We need women at the table where decisions are made, and in the lab. And equally important, we also need women leading those labs.

In my job, it is very clear that the only way we are going to solve many of the challenges of our time is through scientific discovery and innovation. We need the best and brightest. Many of our best and brightest are women.

Let me tell you what we are doing at the State Department to support women and girls in STEM. In my bureau, Oceans and Environmental and Scientific Affairs, women are leading the charge on many of our priorities.

Key members of our leadership team include Deputy Assistant Secretary Mahlet Mesfin, who leads our efforts to protect the world’s ocean, fisheries, and the polar regions, while Deputy Assistant Secretary Rahima Kandahari leads our efforts for international cooperation in science, technology and space. This includes supporting broader participation in STEM fields for women worldwide.

Next we have Elizabeth Kim, the Director of Ocean and Polar Affairs. She led the U.S. delegation in successfully concluding UN negotiations on the new High Seas Treaty. This treaty creates a mechanism for establishing marine protected areas on the high seas, a critical step forward in the global goal to conserve and protect 30 percent of the ocean by 2030.

Larke Williams is hard at work as the chief negotiator on the U.S. delegation hammering out an international agreement to halt plastic pollution.

Dr. Sarah Staton is the Deputy Director of the Office of Science and Technology Cooperation, and she is advancing American leadership in critical and emerging technology such as quantum, fusion, biotech, and AI. Our work also extends into outer space.

Valda Vikmanis-Keller leads the Office of Space Affairs, which is responsible for driving forward civil and commercial space exploration and utilization, including through the Department’s first-ever Strategic Framework for Space Diplomacy. This strategy integrates gender equity and inclusion as a key principle across all we do in space.

In 2023, I also named Rachel Kastenberg as OES’s advisor on gender issues. She is dedicated to integrating gender equity and equality across all our work. When we engage women and girls in environment, science, and technology solutions it leads to healthier families and healthier and stronger communities.

Most of these exceptional women have strong backgrounds in science, technology, and law. All of them are practicing diplomacy at the highest levels, leading U.S. policy development and execution and showcasing to the world the power of women in science and technology.

In OES, we recognize that we cannot fully address the environment, science, and technology issues of today and tomorrow without the full and active participation of women and girls in society.

This is why an important component to our work includes advancing opportunities for women and girls in STEM fields and careers around the world and promoting diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility – or DEIA – across all aspects of our work.

Not every STEM career needs a PhD in the sciences. Our bureau has offered funding to create opportunities for women to participate in STEM careers. In Central America, for example, we are funding a seed bank, and part of that funding is for technical training for local women to work in that seed bank. Another grant of $1.5 million is for training women in the Pacific Islands for careers in the renewable energy sector. These are just two of our programs. Through these and other efforts, we are making sure that women are at the table where decisions are made.

And in programs that do not target women exclusively, we make sure that women are fully included in opportunities for growth and participation. We carry this mindset into our discussions in APEC, the G7, the G20, and other multilateral groups. For example, in 2023, the APEC Policy Partnership on Science, Technology, and Innovation, in collaboration with the Department of State’s Global Innovation, Science, and Technology flagship program, dedicated its efforts to empower women climate entrepreneurs. The initiative provided top female climate entrepreneurs with business training and recognized their innovative solutions addressing climate issues, spanning from combating illegal fishing to using AI for agriculture and pest control.

We are in good company. The White House and agencies across the Federal government worked together to develop the first-ever U.S. National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality in 2021, which includes Science and Technology as one of its ten priorities. Further, the subsequent Strategy on Global Women’s Economic Security notes that increasing the participation of women and girls in STEM not only catalyzes economic growth and productivity, but also contributes to women’s empowerment and gender equity.

Our OES leadership team takes every opportunity to reach out to young women and girls as well as professional women as we travel overseas. We want to encourage and support their STEM aspirations. In Laos I spoke with women leaders in science and technology. What an impressive group and what challenges they face as they try to modernize their country and protect the natural resources that they have. In Indonesia, I had the great pleasure of speaking with young women studying in the STEM field. These are some of the most rewarding encounters I have as a diplomat because I can see the potential and dedication that should give all of hope for the future of the planet.

I am not suggesting that science is a boys club that we need to turn into a girls club, or that we should stop seeking the best and the brightest in favor of some other criteria. On the contrary, it is in the American interest – in everybody’s interest, really – to make sure that science is a community where men, women, people of all different backgrounds can come together and be their best.

Humankind certainly needs all the help we can get. That is why I am asking all of you to seek out opportunities to mentor, encourage, and support young women and girls to go into STEM fields and to persevere as they move forward. But we cannot just provide opportunities, we need to help them along their career paths. You know how hard STEM work can be and perhaps you would have appreciated a mentor who could have helped smooth the road. So, I challenge you not only to support women and girls with STEM opportunities but also to be that mentor to whom they can bring their questions, problems, and roadblocks and seek advice and support throughout their careers.

Today is a celebration of all our efforts to promote women and girls in STEM, and I look forward to hearing from our panelists about their ideas for greater collaboration. For those of you who are scientists and engineers, we are so grateful. But know that we are also expecting a lot from you.

Before closing, I would like to leave you with this final thought: No field or profession should be out of reach for women – we cannot tackle all global challenges without including women in all the processes to find solutions.

All the best and thank you.

U.S. Department of State

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