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International Women’s Day 2021: Celebrating the Achievements of Women in STEM

International Women’s Day 2021: Celebrating the Achievements of Women in STEM

Recognizing the successes, progress, and persistent challenges for women in science

Lauren Everett

Today, March 8, is recognized as International Women’s Day—a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.

To highlight this annual event, Lab Manager asked a few women leaders in science what International Women’s Day means to them, and how women in STEM can better support each other, support themselves, and gain more allies in the workplace.

“International Women’s Day is a perfect opportunity to step back and think about our collective impact on STEM fields,” says Sherri Bassner, PhD, retired chemist and manager who spent 30 years developing new products and services, and then leading others in those same efforts. “While there is great diversity within the female STEM community, we have great communal power when we lift each other up through sharing of our experiences, coaching and networking. Take a moment today to reach out and support the next generation of female scientists.”

At Lab Manager, we have brought both the successes and ongoing challenges for women in science to the forefront through our digital Women Leaders in Science series. The monthly series, which launched in December 2020, features multiple female speakers, each sharing their experiences and their unique career journey in the STEM world. 

The series will wrap up tomorrow, March 9, with presenter Joanne Kamens, PhD, executive director, Addgene, who will share her journey from decades at the bench to a diverse career in four sectors of the life science community. To attend this presentation, or view any of the previous three Women Leaders in Science presentations on demand, visit https://summit.labmanager.com/womenleaders.

A call to action

In addition to celebrating women’s achievements, the other main priority of International Women’s Day is to bring forth a call to action for accelerating gender parity. According to a Pew Research Center study, annual salaries for men in STEM are nearly $15,000 higher than women. The gap is even more significant when compared to Latina and Black women in STEM, who earn about $33,000 less than men. 

“In general, every day is Women's Day to me. Since founding Massachusetts AWIS (Association for Women in Science), I don't think a day goes by that I don't do at least a little something to further the goal of true equity in science for all underrepresented groups, including women,” says Kamens. I think we're making progress, but it's going to take all of us, of all genders, to make real change.”

Celebrating women in science

Ariane Briegel, professor of ultrastructural biology at Leiden University and co-director of the Netherlands Centre for Electron Nanoscopy, is celebrating this International Women’s Day through a special project with Thermo Fisher Scientific. Briegel helped to identify some leading women scientists who are using cryo-EM to overcome life science research barriers. Thermo Fisher Scientific conducted insightful interviews with each of the featured scientists, and built a dedicated website to showcase the work of each woman. 

One benefit of the site, Briegel notes, is that it can help conference organizers find a diverse and inclusive set of speakers in this field—an area of improvement for scientific conferences. “In theory, the doors for a successful career in science seem open to all. However, more subtle biases certainly persist,” says Briegel. “For my own career, the largest hurdles were my own doubts about my own possibilities, and these were fueled by what I saw around me. The people who were promoted, got prizes, or were invited to speak at conferences were predominantly men.”

Briegel’s anecdote can also be used as an example to drive home the point of this year’s theme for International Women’s Day. According to the event website, the theme for International Women’s Day 2021 is “Choose to Challenge.” Those celebrating International Women’s Day are encouraged to “challenge and call out gender bias and inequality,” according to the event’s website. “Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world.”

So, what does this day look like in your organization? Is it just another Monday, or are you taking this opportunity to critically evaluate how you can improve any gender equity challenges among your team? 

“Until a true gender balance exists, International Women’s Day is very important and should be celebrated,” says Briegel.

Learn more about the history of International Women’s Day, and how you can “Choose to Challenge” here.