Catherine Jay Didion
Executive Director, WEPAN
Growing leadership opportunities for women in science and entrepreneurship Response by Catherine Jay Didion

A majority of the new discoveries and successful entrepreneurial activities in science and engineering have been at the intersection of many disciplines which has led to an increased emphasis on the importance of diverse teams (usually defined only in terms of disciplinary and scientific training) in securing important contributions to research and development. One might argue that having diverse teams in terms of background, experience as well as gender can also foster such entrepreneurship and research. What are some of the efforts organizations and institutions can do to ensure that all of their scientific and technical talent are engaged effectively and therefore increase their chances of impact in research and entrepreneurship? Are there proven strategies that can be adapted and used to increase contributions of women scientists in particular?

Catherine “Kitty” Didion is currently the executive director of WEPAN (Women in Engineering Pro-Active Network) a non-profit committed to increasing the percentage of women in engineering and other technical fields in all sectors of employment. From 2016 to 2018 Didion was a Vice President at Olin College of Engineering, which is known for its design thinking curriculum and has 50% female students and 40% female faculty in engineering. She had overall responsibility for the college’s advancement efforts, including external engagement relations. Olin has been visited by over 1,000 visitors from more than 400 institutions of higher education throughout the world who are interested in exploring how its emphasis on project-based learning and entrepreneurship can be exported to their organizations.

Didion served from 2006 to 2016 as the Director of the Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) and as a Senior Program Officer at the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). Her portfolio included projects on gender and science, engineering education, the global technical workforce, and diversity. Didion was the Principal Investigator (PI) of several US National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants which focus on education and career pathways of students and researchers in science and engineering with an emphasis on underrepresented populations including women and people of color. Didion was the lead National Academies’ staff officer for over a dozen publications including Gender Differences at Critical Transitions in the Careers of Science, Engineering and Mathematics Faculty; Career Choices of Female Engineers; and Surmounting the Barriers: Ethnic Diversity in Engineering Education.

Before joining the National Academies, Didion served as the Executive Director of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS). During her tenure AWIS was awarded the US Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring and she was the principle investigator for more than a dozen US government and foundation grants that focused on mentoring and career opportunities for female scientists. Didion has presented testimony before the US Congress and US federal agencies.

Didion is an internationally recognized expert on issues of equity and gender in engineering and science. She has worked with the European Commission, the South African Ministry of Science and Technology, the Organization of American States, the InterAmerican Network of Academies of Sciences (IANAS), UNESCO and many other organizations on these issues. She has been an invited speaker on mentoring, networking, and women in engineering and science and has authored over sixty publications. She has served as the editor for Women in Science Column for the Journal of College Science Teaching. Didion has many external affiliations and currently is a member of the Human Resources Expert Panel for the US National Science Foundation.

Didion has extensive experience on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC including staff positions at the US Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, the US Senate Computer Center, and the US Senate Press Gallery.

Didion was named in 2012 one of “100 Women Leaders in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).” Her honors include 2014 National Academy of Engineering Staff Award; American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Fellow; AWIS Fellow; Drucker Foundation Fellow; Texaco Management Institute Fellow; Secretary of the US Air Force Inaugural Environmental Civic Leader; and Certificate of Commendation and Distinguished Service, Embassy of the United States of America, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Didion completed her undergraduate degree at Mount Holyoke College and graduate work at the University of Virginia.