It’s Not Enough To Have Women in STEM – They Need To Be Leaders, Too
By Liliana Losada Brown, PhD, Associate Director of Scientific Affairs at SWHR
Earlier this month, I attended the Clare Boothe Luce 25th Anniversary Professor’s conference at Fordham University in New York. The event celebrated Clare Boothe Luce’s vision of increasing participation of women in science and engineering at every level of higher education. In its 25 years, the program has supported almost 2,000 women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) and in STEM education.
As a whole, STEM fields have come a long way in their efforts to become more inclusive of women. At the conference, Dr. Cynthia Friend, Theodore Williams Richards Professor of Chemistry and Professor of Materials Science at Harvard University, spoke about being the first and only female faculty member in her department in 1982. Presently, there are five additional women belonging to the department - an increase to only 17 percent female faculty, still significantly lower than the 30 percent of graduate degrees in chemistry earned by women. Though this represents a shift in the right direction for academia at large, according to Dr. Shirley Malcolm, Director Education and Human Resources, American Association for the Advancement of Science, the progress is far too slow. Overall, data from U.S. universities and professional societies in STEM show that the academic ‘pipeline,’ which begins with obtaining a college degree, going to graduate school, and then becoming college professors, deans, or more prominent university positions – continues to ‘leak’ predominantly female members. This “leaky pipeline” has resulted in under-representation of women in leadership positions within the STEM fields. Dr. Malcolm also urged the audience to actively promote the accomplishments of women in STEM as a tangible strategy to fix this leak, and Dr. Carlotta Arthur, Director of the CBL Program and Ms. Judith White, President of Higher Education Resource Services (HERS) echoed the sentiment and announced a partnership with CBL to target mid-career women and focus attention on how women can grow as leaders in STEM.
SWHR has championed women leaders in STEMM (the second ‘M’ stands for Medicine) through the RAISE Project, which catalogs women who have been recognized by their peers for their scientific accolades. The database functions as a resource for identifying female STEMM leaders that may serve in a variety of leadership roles including selection committees, panelists at conferences or briefings, among others, and will ultimately serve to encourage more gender parity across all aspects of biomedical research.
The field of STEMM leadership needs to shift from providing special mentoring programs that instruct women on how to be traditional leaders, toward celebrating and expecting from all leaders the values and approaches more often used by women. Furthermore, it is essential that we expand our concept of what it means to be successful in STEMM. An important, undesired consequence of the ‘leaky pipeline’ concept is that it invokes a single path to success and ultimately undervalues the ambitions of many women to dedicate their life to alternative careers in STEMM, including education, outreach, diplomacy, policy, and advocacy.
Photo: Clare Boothe Luce 25th Anniversary Professor’s conference at Fordham University in New York.
The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR ®) is a national non-profit based in Washington D.C. that is widely recognized as the thought-leader in promoting research on biological differences in disease and is dedicated to transforming women’s health through science, advocacy, and education.