Objectives & History

About WIT

View the 2022 WIT poster for a quick overview of WIT and its 2021–2022 activities.

Objectives

The objectives of the SOT Women in Toxicology Special Interest Group are:

To promote the recruitment and retention of women to a profession in the toxicological sciences.

To provide leadership for career development opportunities for women toxicologists.

To promote and recognize the accomplishments of women toxicologists.

To sponsor scientific and educational programs, including Symposia, Poster and Platform Sessions, Workshops, and Continuing Education courses, on current scientific information and scientific policy issues that advance the science of toxicology.


Key Issues and Goals

Mentoring

WIT will serve as a resource for women within SOT to aid in career development opportunities. WIT members will serve as role models for women entering the field and will assist those women already established in the field to achieve their professional goals.

Visibility

WIT will actively work to increase the visibility of women within SOT and the scientific community. This will be achieved by encouraging and supporting the participation of women in all activities sponsored by SOT, as well as encouraging women to become SOT members.

Leadership

WIT will provide the opportunity for members to gain leadership experience within SOT by making it possible for women to participate at all levels. For example, this will include the encouragement of women to serve as SOT Council members, Scientific Session Chairs, and participation in various other SOT activities. WIT also will support and encourage members to serve as leaders within their respective disciplines.

Education

WIT will actively work to advance and promulgate education in toxicology, increase the visibility of women in toxicology, and encourage young women to consider a career in the toxicological sciences.


History

The Founding

By Drs. Gina Pastino and Michelle Hooth in 2002

In 1998, Dr. Gina Pastino requested that SOT form a Women in Toxicology Committee in response to a letter sent by the President of SOT regarding ideas for potential SOT activities. Similar Committees had been established in many other professional scientific organizations. However, the SOT was lacking a Committee focused on the needs of women in toxicology.

In response to Dr. Pastino’s request, an informational gathering meeting was held at the SOT meeting in New Orleans (March 1999). Although there was some initial concern on the part of SOT Council that there would not be enough interest, the meeting was a big success with over 100 people in attendance. Subsequently, SOT Council voted to form an Ad Hoc Working Group on Women in Toxicology (WIT) that was established in July 1999. WIT was given temporary status at that time and three years to demonstrate the continued interest and financial stability.

During the first year, WIT was very active in working toward permanent integration within the Society. The first task was to develop the overall mission and goals. These were modeled after existing women in science organizations, such as the Association of Women in Cancer Research, Women Chemists Committee, Women in Neuroscience, Association for Women in Mathematics, and many others. As such, the mission of WIT was (1) to promote the recruitment and retention of women to a profession in the toxicological sciences; (2) to provide leadership for career development opportunities for women toxicologists; and (3) to promote and recognize the accomplishments of women toxicologists. Key issues were established to reflect the mission and goals, including mentoring, increased visibility, and leadership roles of women within the SOT.

The SOT Council established criteria for the determination of the success of WIT at the end of the three-year period, at which time the status of the group would be re-evaluated. These criteria included (1) evidence that WIT-sponsored meetings/Symposium/Workshops held in conjunction with the annual SOT meeting were successful; (2) evidence of participation in WIT-sponsored initiatives/activities by a broad segment of SOT members; and (3) evidence that the task force has successfully designed and implemented activities that meet with stated objectives of WIT.

Although the term as an Ad Hoc group did not expire until June 2002, the criteria for success initially outlined by SOT Council had already been met within the first two years. The first official meeting of WIT took place at the SOT Annual Meeting in Philadelphia (March 2000). For a second year, WIT was a huge success with over 150 members in attendance. That meeting featured a panel of women at different levels of their career and in different employment sectors and focused on issues related to the status of women within SOT, as well as the field of toxicology in general. The meeting in 2001 featured a talk by Dr. Debra Meyerson, author of Tempered Radicals: How to Inspire Change at Work. Additionally, WIT co-sponsored a Symposium on “Breast Cancer: Issues in Screening and Testing of Human Carcinogens” at that meeting.

WIT continued to engage in activities consistent with the established goals that included outreach to the membership at large. For example, WIT members served as liaisons to the Placement Committee and the Education Committee of SOT, both of which have overlapping goals with WIT. Drs. Gina Pastino and Michelle Hooth also attended the first AXXS meeting and the Minority Health Profession Foundation Conference on Careers in Biomedical Sciences on behalf of SOT. An email list was established to facilitate communication between WIT members throughout the year. WIT also conducted a very informal survey of the membership to determine the percentage of women at each membership level. The survey pointed to a decline in participation by women at the higher levels of membership. At the Student, Associate, and Full membership level, there were 48%, 40%, and 18% females, respectively. These results prompted a similar demographics survey of the entire membership by SOT Council. The disparity noted in the WIT survey also was reflected in the number of women who were recognized for their contributions through SOT-sponsored awards.

Although it became apparent that WIT should become a fully integrated, permanent group within SOT, there was uncertainty regarding how WIT would be structured. The SOT consisted of Committees and Specialty Sections. Committees tend to focus on broad issues relevant to the overall goals of the Society. Committee members are generally nominated by the President and elected by the membership at large and are not required to raise their own funds. Moreover, the goals are established by SOT Council. On the other hand, Specialty Sections focus on technical areas, such as Carcinogenesis, Risk Assessment, Inhalation Toxicology, etc. The officers are elected by the group’s membership. Although given some financial support from SOT, Specialty Sections must become financially independent through collection of dues.

The Committee structure seemed to be more in line with a goal of providing services and programs aimed at promoting the careers and training of women in toxicology while the Specialty Section structure suggested that interest in promoting women in the field is an area of specialization, rather than a cross-cutting issue relevant to all SOT members. However, WIT wanted to have the flexibility to define goals, objectives, and bylaws. Although receiving some financial support initially, WIT collects dues and will eventually become financially independent.

In July 2001, SOT Council approved the proposal for WIT to become a Specialty Section! An Executive Committee was established for the 2001–2002 fiscal year and included Dr. Gina Pastino (President), Dr. Michelle Hooth (Vice President), Dr. Eva Oberdorster (Secretary/Treasurer), and Drs. Mary Haasch, Linda Birnbaum, Julie Kimbell, and Victoria Tu as Councilors. The first formal election was held for a new Executive Committee to take office June 1, 2002. Elected were Dr. Michelle Hooth (President), Dr. Virginia Moser (Vice President), Dr. Kristina Dam (Secretary/Treasurer), and Drs. Mary Haasch, Karen Morris-Fine, and Stephanie Padilla (Councilors).

Now that WIT has become an integral part of the SOT and has gained wide-spread support within the Society’s membership, attention can be turned towards achieving the original goals. Future activities of WIT will focus on the development of a formal mentoring program, development of an award program to recognize the accomplishments of women in the field of toxicology, and outreach to other SOT Committees, among many other activities.

Women in Toxicology: Then and Now

By: Nicole S. Olgun, PhD, NIOSH, and Lisa Prince, MS, URMC, in 2016

View the article and timeline.