Women in Science and Technology

A conversation I've never participated in, until now

February 6th, 2015 : 4 minutes

tl dr; The best thing you can do to help create gender equality in STEM fields is by taking mentorship seriously.

I am a woman in science and technology and I am confused by my interest in gender equality issues and simultaneous reluctance to participate in any conversation about it. At this point, I think it has all been said and no matter what the perspective, you've offended someone and made at least one person roll their eyes. But I think it's time to say a few of my own words on the topic.

The facts are there: Fewer women earn degrees in Science and Technology fields than men. There is a growing gap between men and women's wages. Sexism in the workplace is alive and well, and not just in STEM industries. There are many factors that contribute to the underrepresentation of women in STEM which call for multiple solutions to balance the numbers and erradicate discrimination. Here, I just want to offer one solution, based on my personal experiences.

For the first 24 years of my life, I wanted to be an academic professor. I studied Brain and Cognitive Sciences as an undergraduate and went to UCSF to pursue a PhD in Neuroscience. I always heard people talk about how hard it was to be a woman in science and it was always hard for me to participate in those conversations because...well...I couldn't identify. In my mind, there were tons of women in science and everyone respected them. They published in high profile journals, got tenure, and had a strong presence in the department. Only after I left my program and later joined a female-run startup in Silicon valley did I became aware of the gender imbalances in our industry.

I really can't go into why so few executives and VCs are women, but I will say that one necessary step in changing all of that is to increase mentorship for up and coming women. Growing up, I was never even aware that women were disadvantaged. How could I have been? My mom studied biology at Wellesley College and continued on to earn her M.S. from UCSF and her Ph.D. from MIT in 1974 at a time when 90% of the graduate students were men. In 1977, she became an assistant professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics at Cornell University, the third woman in her department among 15 men. My older sister did her thesis work in a woman's laboratory, and went on to become one of the youngest assistant professors at MIT at the age of 31, where her two mentors are female Principal Investigators in the department.

I have had strong female role models my whole life. Growing up, I had never witnessed how being a woman can prevent someone from being successful. I think that it is important to create awareness but even more important to focus on leading by example rather than how unfair it all is. I urge young girls and women to find strong mentors to help them guide their journeys through STEM and more importantly, for the women who have broken barriers to do their part in mentoring those who are following after them. Many women-positive companies and organizations have been born in recent years. It is up to you who you surround yourself with. If the world ever made you think you couldn't, but you did anyway, make yourself visible to those who might need the extra encouragement and guidance.