In 2018, chemists Dr. Lara Kallander and Dr. Donna Huryn decided the time was right for galvanizing women in their field. So, they decided to plan the first Empowering Women in Organic Chemistry (EWOC) conference for the following year. They said that their mission was “to empower and support women to enter and lead successful careers in the field of organic chemistry by providing a diverse, inclusive, and innovative environment for them to feel a true sense of belonging, develop powerful networks, and know the opportunities available to them.”
Drs. Margaret Faul, Rebecca Ruck, Mary Watson, and I joined them as cofounders of EWOC, which became an annual event. As we said in our vision statement, we hoped EWOC would “be a leading conference in supporting women in the field of Organic Chemistry that accepts and values diversity, understanding that our differences will enable us collectively to be more successful, advance science, and lead to a future where equal opportunity is available to people of all genders and our meeting is no longer required.”
In 2019, we held the first conference at the University of Pennsylvania. We approached the Philadelphia chapter of AWIS to partner with us and have since also established a partnership with the American Chemical Society’s Division of Organic Chemistry, with Dr. Elizabeth Swift serving as the current liaison. The success of EWOC’s annual conferences has led to seven local chapters forming across the United States and Canada, and there is even an EWOC Europe contingent.
At that first conference, a man in the audience remarked that he had never before experienced the sensation of sitting in an auditorium where the majority of the attendees were not of his same gender, and he mused about how being in the minority must affect women in science. Our conference aims to support women scientists who experience this isolation. Consistent conference feedback has confirmed that EWOC strongly increases attendees’ awareness of successful women in science and their resilience in the face of obstacles, has provided them role models and mentors they can relate to, and has greatly expanded their network.
Beginning in 2020, Conference Committee members started receiving crucial help from representatives of the host site and other volunteers. These co-planners have included Drs. Annaliese Franz and Stefan Koenig, who have served since 2020; Dr. Kimberly Steward (2020–2022); Drs. Malika Jeffries-El and Danica Rankic (2022); and Drs. Carolyn Cohen, Sarah Reisman, and Kumiko Yamamoto (2023). In addition, members of local chapters join in to support the event annually.
EWOC held its fifth annual conference on June 22 and 23. Day 1 was fully virtual, while Day 2 offered both virtual participation and in-person attendance at Amgen’s headquarters in Thousand Oaks, California. There were close to 600 registrants from across the globe (from 14 countries and 27 different US states), and about 275 participants attended on-site. As in past years, the majority identified as she/her/hers, with about 14% identifying as he/him/his or other.
This year’s conference included Meet Our Sponsor sessions, virtual and in-person workshops, on-line networking opportunities on various topics, presentations by six eminent women chemists, a career panel, site tours, a poster session, and many opportunities for networking in person, including an informal meet-up organized by the SoCal chapter, sponsored by some of our partners. EWOC will be back June 20–21, 2024, at Merck in Rahway, New Jersey. In the meantime, please visit ewochem.org to engage with us.
[Editor’s note: For more information on the founders and committee members, please visit https://ewochem.org/ about.]
Elinor “Ellie” Cantor, PhD, MBA was trained as a biochemical pharmacologist and worked in the pharmaceutical industry before switching to executive search. Now retired, Dr. Cantor holds a variety of volunteer positions in various organizations and has been an active member of AWIS and the Philadelphia chapter for over thirty years.