When women support and uplift each other, we can overcome the isolation and discouragement that can hinder success and pave the way for future generations of women in science. As I took the incredibly scary step of moving away from the research trajectory and swapping my lab coat for science communication, it was made much easier knowing how many people were cheering me on. We truly empower one another.
While initiatives to increase the number of women studying STEM are important, it is equally important to create employment opportunities where these women can apply their learning in real-life environments. “You can’t be what you can’t see” – so if we encourage our girls to study STEM but they cannot see their mothers or other female role models working as scientists, technologists, engineers, or mathematicians, then what exactly is the point?
Real change and attainment of gender equity will only be fulfilled when government, academia – including its societies and colleges – and industry work together as a collective to drive systemic change directed by grassroots advocacy and initiatives. Solutions cannot be about fixing women, but instead need to focus on shifting the barriers and changing the fundamental ways things are done, including our ideas of what traits valuable leaders possess.
These five women alone demonstrate how varied a “STEM career” can be: a researcher, an engineer, a medical director, a radio science journalist, and a STEM career strategist. If we can attract more girls into STEM fields, then we will need systemic change to create an environment they would then want to stay in. Women face many and varied cultural and systemic barriers to success; there are extra hurdles faced by all.
A big reason that there are a lot of women coming to schools to talk to girls about careers is because there are women in the schools motivated to invite them, and there are women out there motivated to donate their time to come and talk. I would love to be a role model who could come and talk to young men about careers and about how to embrace their masculinity in a positive way, but I am not who they need – they need a male role model they can relate to.