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7 inexpensive and easy-to-implement strategies to advance women in science


[Image above] LEGO’s female scientist set advanced sales last summer, but what can be done in terms of real-world advancement for women in STEM? Credit: Maia Weinstock; Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

It’s not secret that one of the biggest conversations about careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics is STEM’s lack of diversity.

And because attracting, inspiring, and training the next generation of all sorts of STEM professionals is so vital to future advancements in ceramics and glass, it’s an issue that we, as editors, tackle on a regular basis (see here and here), and we, as a Society, are dedicated to addressing through expanded outreach initiatives like the Ceramic and Glass Industry Foundation.

March is Women’s History Month, which means that much of that conversation is focused on ways to advance women in science. Even though women have come a long way, research shows that there is still plenty of room for improvement*.

(*Click here for a recent report on research by University of Illinois professor Andrei Cimpian and colleagues that finds women are underrepresented in academic fields “whose practitioners put a lot of emphasis on the importance of being brilliant—a quality many people assume women lack.” Or, if you haven’t yet combed through NSF’s Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering 2015, click here for the full report and statistical data.)

A working group of 30-plus academic and business leaders organized by the New York Stem Cell Foundation has put forth seven strategies to address financial support, psychological and cultural issues, and collaborative and international initiatives they believe will advance women in an often imbalanced STEM landscape.

“We wanted to think about broad ways to elevate the entire field, because when we looked at diversity programs across our organizations we thought that the results were okay, but they really could be better,” says Susan L. Solomon, cofounder and CEO of the New York Stem Cell Foundation and member of the Initiative on Women in Science and Engineering Working Group, in a news release. “We’ve identified some very straightforward things to do that are inexpensive and could be implemented pretty much immediately.”

1. Implement flexible family care spending

Make grants gender neutral by permitting grantees to use a certain percentage of grant award funds to pay for childcare, eldercare, or family-related expenses. This provides more freedom for grantees to focus on professional development and participate in the scientific community.

2. Provide “extra hands” awards

Dedicate funds for newly independent young investigators who are also primary caregivers to hire technicians, administrative assistants, or postdoctoral fellows.

3. Recruit gender-balanced review and speaker selection committees

Adopt policies that ensure that peer review committees are conscious of gender and are made up of a sufficient number of women.

4. Incorporate implicit bias statements

For any initiative that undergoes external peer review, include a statement that describes the concept of implicit bias to reviewers and reiterates the organization’s commitment to equality and diversity.

5. Focus on education as a tool

Academic institutions and grant makers must educate their constituents and grantees on the issues women face in science and medicine. For example, gender awareness training should be a standard component of orientation programs.

6. Create an institutional report card for gender equality

Define quantifiable criteria that can be used to evaluate gender equality in institutions on an annual basis. For instance, these report cards may ask for updates about the male to female ratio of an academic department or the organization’s policy regarding female representation on academic or corporate committees.

7. Partner to expand upon existing searchable databases of women in science, medicine, and engineering

Create or contribute to databases that identify women scientists for positions and activities that are critical components for career advancement.

“The issues in science, technology, engineering, and medicine are the kinds of challenges that we as a society face, and we need to have 100 percent of the population—both genders—to be having an opportunity to participate,” Solomon said. “We need people who care because they’re thinking about their daughters or granddaughters or nieces, sisters, or wives, or larger issues like finding cures for disease or climate change, and they want to make sure that we’ve got enough horsepower behind us.”

How easily could these strategies be implemented at your organization? Are the other issues that aren’t identified here?

The paper, published in Cell Stem Cell, is “Seven actionable strategies for advancing women in science, engineering, and medicine,” (DOI: 10.1016/j.stem.2015.02.012).