After 164 years of publishing, Scientific American — “probably the [United States'] most venerable source of science news written for a general audience,” according to the Chronicle of Higher Education — finally has its first female editor in chief, Mariette DiChristina. A 20-year veteran of science journalism, DiChristina has been Scientific American’s acting editor in chief since June, but now it’s official.
In an interview with Fishbowl NY, DiChristina didn’t seem too fussed by the historic significance of the promotion — “I think anybody who is a position of leadership should feel a sense of responsibility. And I don’t know if mine is any greater or less because I’m a first for the magazine. I know I’m very honored and grateful” — but she also underscored why it’s so important: “I have two young daughters; one of them wants to be a scientist, and the other one wants to be the editor of Scientific American.” Granted, those are probably the only little girls in the U.S. who could name the editor in chief of Scientific American, but the symbolic value of DiChristina’s achievement still shouldn’t be underestimated.
It seems like every other week at Broadsheet we’re writing about another study that found girls have the raw material to be just as good as boys at math and science, but are held back by a lack of confidence, support, role models and mentoring. (And even if enough of them make it all the way through college with their desire to pursue science intact, as soon as a field starts approaching gender equality, its perceived value begins to drop.) However many strides women have made in the workforce, we’re still unaccustomed to seeing them in leadership positions in science-related professions, and still arguing endlessly about whether that’s a function of nature or nurture. Mariette DiChristina’s achievement at least drags us an inch closer to a world in which other people’s young daughters will see “scientist” as a viable career goal — and maybe even find fewer obstacles on the way there.