March is Women's History Month, and this year's theme is Women in STEM. As part of my university's festivities, we had a panel discussion entitled, "Lipsticks and Lab Coats: Women’s Challenges and Journeys in STEM." Despite not being a wearer of either lipstick or a labcoat, I was invited to participate on the panel, and got a free lunch out of the deal.
The discussion touched on many of the issues that I've come to be very
familiar with through my involvement with CSWA:
unconscious and conscious bias, gender policing,
lack of support for childcare, leaky pipelines,
trying to lead while being a woman, two-body problems,
and work-family balance, just to name a few. I have to remind myself
at events like these that although I feel like I'm re-treading the same
ground over and over again in discussing these issues, that's not
true for everyone.
One of the things that I truly appreciated and enjoyed about the panel
was hearing about all the panelists' journeys to where they are today.
We were asked to discuss not just the challenges we faced along the way,
but also why we loved our jobs and what skills and strengths helped
us in our paths. It reminded me of why I became a scientist: the love
of discovery, of exploration, of problem-solving.
At the same time, there were several of us who could speak to being
the lone woman in her department at some point along the way.
Despite all our talents and skills, there's a real lack of
senior women faculty in our university. Many of our departments
have achieved gender balance, or nearly so, among our graduate students,
but our women students have few role models because of the lack
of gender parity in the faculty. Solving that issue is going to take
more than a panel discussion, however.
For my own part, I've been hosting a Women in Physics and Astronomy
Tea on a semesterly basis. The next one will be a little late for
Women's History Month, but better late than never. I'm doing my best
to be a role model for these students, by showing them by example that
they can do what they love and get a successful career out of it, and
their gender doesn't have to get in the way.