Today, on International Women’s Day, we honor all our fearless females for their tireless commitment to the security of our nation and communities. The commemorative day offers an opportunity to spotlight the achievements of women across various fields—for us here at the Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), this includes everything from chemistry to systems engineering, program management, testing and evaluation, immunology and virology, and environmental safety and health. I personally have worked at S&T in various capacities for 14 years now and I’m extremely proud to join the ranks of these rock star women and shout about their many contributions from every rooftop.
The theme of this year’s commemoration is “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow,” which does weigh heavy on my mind despite the incredible strides S&T’s women, and women across the globe, continue to make. According to a 2021 Pew Research Center study, women remain underrepresented across Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields, and we need to do much better to encourage and celebrate diversity in these areas as well. Doing so will not only strengthen our homeland security, but our climate, our public health, our critical infrastructure, and much, much more.
So, for International Women’s Day 2022 I would like to share some quotes from our own women—who make up 38.9% of S&T’s federal workforce—on how they forged their paths in STEM and why it is so important to give girls a seat at the table (and a loud voice) from an early age:
“I've always been inquisitive and a bit argumentative, so logical career paths were lawyer or scientist. My high school AP Chemistry teacher—a fellow woman in science—made [it] fun…and helped to unlock my wonderment for science that pushed me to go that path in my education and, ultimately, career. I see science as an outlet to unleash my curiosity and creativity to solve hard problems…and maybe have some positive impact in the process."
“I think that one of the biggest things that will motivate more young girls to consider careers in STEM is representation. The more women role models that they see in the various scientific fields, the more confident girls will become that they too can become scientists. Also, I think that it is our responsibility to mentor young girls—to introduce them to the various STEM careers that exist and to reinforce that they can follow their passions to become successful scientists."
“I think having more great mentors and role models would help to inspire more girls to pursue careers in STEM. In today's world of social media, platforms could be leveraged more to raise awareness of the exciting progress being made as result of science, celebrate the range of achievements (e.g., medicine, climate change, space, standards of living) and recognize women that are helping to make positive changes. Not only can social media platforms reach girls and young people with healthy/inspiring content, but they can also potentially help improve equitable access to STEM opportunities and facilitate connections to mentors and role models."
“There are a number of things that we can do to motivate girls to consider a career in STEM. I think it's important that we continue to work towards changing cultural stereotypes and traditional roles that girls have in our society. We can provide better education about career choices. Finally, we can inspire and motivate them by highlighting other influential women that have made significant impacts. These women will serve as examples of what they can be."
“I think early and frequent exposure as well as hands on experiences can really help motive anyone. Encouraging kids to follow their curiosity, allowing them to dream big and be creative, showing them how things work (particularly things they are interested in), and allowing them to safely experiment are all great ways to motivate, build confidence and interest.”
“My advice to girls is that they should not limit themselves to stereotypical gender-biased careers. Girls need to be open to exploring all STEM venues so they can choose what is right for them. These options were not available for me when I was growing up, so it took me years to find my passion for Chemistry. Science is fun, but how would anyone know that if nobody is around to guide them? We (science professionals) have the obligation to volunteer our time to encourage girls and engage them whenever opportunity arises."
“I've always been curious and love to ask the question why. So, a career in science was the natural path to pursue to satisfy both my curiosity and the need for answers. Specifically learning the scientific method to find answers to my questions. I always like the proverb that ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’ For me it took a lot of encouragement from great science teachers and family members to continue walking on the path to a career in science."
“For one, we need to allow girls to be scientists in their own lives. I didn't wake up one day and decide to pursue a career in STEM; it was a choice I made over and over and still actively make today. Our next generations of scientists, explorers, and discoverers are scientists already. We just need to show them that they are. The women of the younger generations powerfully follow their passions and stand up for what they believe in. It won't be long until they are leading STEM innovation further than we imagined possible. For that to happen, we MUST create a safe, supportive and healthy work environment that young girls will want to enter. Creating space for everyone who will follow in our footsteps cannot be in addition to our mission, it is essential to our mission. Our job, at the personal and organizational levels, is to make STEM a place where everyone regardless of gender, race, disability or religion has the agency to contribute to the conversation, starting right now. If we give them the space and encouragement to discover how fun, exciting and fulfilling a career in STEM can be, we won't need to motivate them; they will come running."
These are topics that are close to my heart and top of mind every day. And these are topics that I live and breathe every day, not only on March 8th. I saw that many will be using the #BreakTheBias hashtag on social media, and S&T will be part of the conversation as well, sharing additional quotes from our team. I hope you will follow along, share your own thoughts, and help us to foster solutions for the next generation of STEM rock stars.