Often the minority in their workspaces, women in STEM sometimes find themselves having to forge a new path.
“Representing the Underrepresented: Women in STEM Breakfast & Discussion” was organized by the companies at 3675 Market Street on Wednesday, part of Philly Tech Week, to have a discussion on the experience of women working in STEM fields.
The all-women panel included Melina Blees, the site director at BioLabs@CIC; Kristen Kahle, the immunomonitoring lead at Spark Therapeutics; Monica King, a data scientist at Drexel
University; and Alicia C. McDonald, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Penn State College of Medicine.
The discussion was moderated by Maya Heiland, a program manager at the University City Science Center.
Here are three of the biggest takeaways for supporting women in STEM, according to the panelists:
The panelists discussed how mentorship shaped each of their careers and the importance of mentoring young girls to make them feel like a future in STEM is possible.
“I think it’s exposure,” McDonald said. “Having role models to look up to. encourage you, and say ‘You can do it, this is where I’ve been and this is how I got there.’”
Women are taught to be more self-critical and are often told they need to be born inherently good at science if they want to make it a career, Blees said. Her key to success was hard work, not being naturally good at it, she said.
Kahle brought up the topic of imposter syndrome and how women in the mathematical and physical sciences lack mentorship.
Her mentor and advisor during graduate school, a man, was encouraging of her, made sure she was confident and protected her from potential issues like sexual harassment.
“I think mentorship comes from a lot of different places,” Kahle said. “And I think that we are a little prone to that self doubt.”
“That can be one of the major reasons that sometimes we get a little discouraged and might take a different path,” she added.
Allies can come in the form of both men and women coworkers, the panelists said.
The responsibility is on recruiters to broaden their search and be allies for minority candidates, Blees said. An applicant pool that is mostly men will result in mostly male hires, but a pool that is 50% women of color will have a more diverse and effective outcome, she said.
McDonald talked about a diversity group she is part of at Penn State, where they discuss strategies to encourage minorities to apply as students and staff and issues they want to address with university leadership.
It’s all about asking questions and getting advice from a lot of different people, McDonald said.
King described how her first job landed her in a male-dominated office.
During the interview process, a lot of the other companies she spoke with gave her a bro-y vibe, which made her seem like she’d be an outlier.
“Pick jobs based on people and culture,” King said, acknowledging that’s a privileged position to be in.
Kahle leads an all-women team at her work, focusing on creating a space where everyone feels comfortable participating. Don’t be afraid to reach out to leaders who are in adjacent positions from you to get coffee, she said.
“That team is giving women with great potential those opportunities to get in that seat at the table: to be involved in the meetings, clinical trials, giving opportunities to people who are rising through the ranks,” Kahle said.