By the time I returned to graduate school to complete my PhD, the entering class in my program was half women and a large portion of my instructors were also women. I was encouraged to have access to their perspective and philosophies on science, and thought it a far cry from a decade before when most of my undergraduate instructors were men. Unfortunately, regardless of who is doing the reporting, although women do make up a good proportion of health care workers and just under half of all life science positions in the workforce, women comprise less than 30% of all STEM workers in the world, and since they are nudged away from science throughout their lives and careers while earning fewer STEM degrees than men, particularly in non-physical science fields. This is demonstrably worse for non-Asian minorities as their representation in STEM fields is under 10% overall. While I am thrilled to have been influenced by so many talented women scientists and colleagues in my career, these numbers can and should be improved.
Women's Equality Day
Women in the United States earned the right to vote upon the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which was ratified and went into effect on August 26, 1920. In the years since, we have seen a gradual increase in the number of women serving in leadership positions, including leadership roles like in the legislature, Supreme Court, and even our first female vice present in Kamala Harris. In the 1970s, Women's Equality Day was established to commemorate this right to vote and to also raise awareness for improved accessibility and participation by women in every aspect of our society. This includes a steady removal of sex discrimination in the workplace, more equitable resources and participation in school sports, and concerted attempts to shrink the gender wage gap.
I find it refreshing and encouraging to see so many celebrations of women in sports, STEM, careers, and of course Women's History Month, where we continue to raise awareness for all the positive contributions women have made in all aspect of our lives in addition to being our mothers, sisters, spouses, and other strong female presences to influence us in the best way. We need to continue to improve access to education and opportunities for women so these contributions will persist for generations to come.
A Profile In Service
Overlapping with Women's Equality Day is a rock star of a human being and a pioneer for women in medicine, Dr. Antonia Novello. Dr. Novello was born in Puerto Rico and was always a strong student, earning a scholarship to the University of Puerto Rico where she received her medical degree. Her many awards and recognitions include being named the first female Intern of the Year at the University of Michigan, various honors for her long track record of service in the public health sector, and even some military honors. As not only the first female surgeon general, but also the first Hispanic surgeon general appointed by President George H.W. Bush, Dr. Novello worked to combat the AIDS epidemic and enacted various policies to combat teenage smoking, youth pregnancy, drug abuse, and in particular focused her messages on youths, minorities, and women. Dr. Novello's work also involved improving access to health care as both surgeon general and subsequently as the commissioner of the New York State Department of Health.
Dr. Novello's story is a testament to the good that a visionary person can do given their own tenacity and access to opportunities, and the fact that she in turn gave back to society through the enactment of positive science and medical policies should be celebrated. I am only sharing Dr. Novello's profile here because her birthday is right around Women's Equality Day, but numerous other women have also made great discoveries that have improved society and global human health, thanks to growing support for women to have a voice and a hand in progress.
Alliance and Advocacy
I often dreamed that someday, my female students would go off to do great things for themselves. Just as with other marginalized groups, there is still a perceived gap in opportunity and compensation for women, and it takes an army of staunch allies to ensure that girls and women are given the same opportunities to excel that men sometimes take for granted. It is important to recognize that while things have improved since women in this country (and others) gained the right to vote, the fight needs to continue to ensure that we never step backwards. I'd like to think that I did my part to always encourage my female colleagues and classmates, to introduce my students to fun opportunities in higher education and lab research, and that they will excel because efforts from myself and others who, to be honest, yield far more power than I do. The more folks who can throw their ideas into the ring, the better for us all.
Love, Science, and a Side of Mayo
I would like to share with you a story about my friends, my college buddy Linda and her husband and champion Vince. Linda was a fantastic student, friend, and mentor for me as an undergraduate at Berkeley, and her never-say-die spirit led her to a critical role as a support laboratory manager at the Mayo Clinic. Vince recognized how much good Linda could do and has been a staunch advocate and ally to Linda throughout their relationship, subsequent marriage, and now as parents to two wonderful kids. I invite you to listen to their story here, and to check out the rest of our stash over at BioChat!