Diversity

When I entered my first faculty meeting at Yale I thought, “where did all the women go”?  I knew the numbers and the existence of the “leaky pipeline”, and I was fortunate to train with women and have many women colleagues during my PhD and postdoc.  Yet the reality of the loss of women didn’t hit me until I became a faculty member.  And that doesn’t even speak to the loss of other groups, which almost are non-existent in my field and in the Yale faculty in STEM.

The reasons for the loss of diversity in STEM are many but I think it ultimately comes down to culture.  As Claire Pomeroy recently highlighted in Scientific American, “it is a culture of exclusion and unconscious bias that leaves many women feeling demoralized, marginalized and unsure.”  

Last weekend I attended a conference organized by Yale undergraduates in the Women Leadership Initiative.  The entire conference was impressive but the “Closing the Gap: Women Leaders in STEM” panel” was particularly relevant and impressive to me.  Three inspiring women, Lisette Tigre-Montgomery (video game developer), Linda Barry (UConn), and Kristala Prather (MIT) spoke about their careers and gave advice to the audience.

I was struck by a few things.  First, the panel was 3 BLACK women. There are so few minorities (black or hispanic as major groups) of any gender in STEM.  Second, when the panelists spoke about their careers and paths to success they resoundingly highlighted difficulites and mentorship as their lifeline to success. I can relate to these sentiments~ my many mentors at Emory and beyond that believed in my abilities continually inspire me to succeed. 

Changing the culture of STEM and building relationships are the key to fixing the leaky pipeline. I am inspired by Uri Alon and his thoughts on creating a nurturing environment in science.  A culture of as one panelist said last weekend, “harassment and exploitation” in science is a problem. Several universities are taking a strong stand to say that sexual harassment is not acceptable.  But its not just sexual harassment that is to blame for the lack of diversity in STEM. 

I am working to change the culture of science.  One activity is building my laboratory environment to be a positive and motivating example of excellence.  Second, through WISAY, I mentor several women postdoctoral fellows.  I am engaging in the MCDB department’s newly established Climate and Diversity committee.  The American Society of Cell Biology’s Women in Cell Biology (WICB) is an example of a successful initiative at the national level.  

For the sake of excellence, diversity and changing the factors that block inclusion are essential priorities for (STEM) organizations.