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Dean's Blog: Championing Women in STEM at Mason

Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm
Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm

Yesterday, Mason’s president Dr. Gregory Washington and I participated in a fireside chat at the VABio “Women Building Bio” virtual conference. We discussed the importance of effective and actionable diversity efforts across academia, business, and government.

I did some bragging on a number of fronts…for example:

Thanks to Kelly Knight who identified a FOCUS student alum to serve on a WBB panel earlier in the day, I highlighted the college’s Females of Color Underrepresented in STEM program impact; over the years, FOCUS has introduced 500+ young middle and high school girls to STEM disciplines. That same WBB panel featured Marissa Howard, a Mason School of Systems Biology PhD candidate who leads the ASSIP Inventors Club, another successful outreach program of ours that encourages entrepreneurship and creativity.

I also described some of our influential and impactful female faculty who may not lead their centers, labs, or units yet are leading in their respective fields, receiving significant research funding for groundbreaking and influential research and establishing successful collaborations.

I made sure to mention that 61% of our undergrad science students are female and 50% of our graduate students are women -- both stats that many universities only dream of achieving. And I also shared that the chair of our biology department is a woman and that six of our twelve departments and programs are led by women and others who may identify with underrepresented groups.

Yet, I’ll echo Dr. Washington’s words…we still have a lot of work to do.

Over and over, the day’s participants talked about the value of strong mentors and presenting challenging growth opportunities for women in science. It’s important to champion diversity in our leadership, in our tenure pipeline, and across our research areas.

And, as I referenced during the panel discussion, “If only 32% of our tenure track faculty currently are women, we need to do better.”

Dr. Washington shared an example of the engineering leadership and their direct report hires over the past few years when he led the college at UC Irvine. He also described four elements that successfully contributed to the creation of a more diverse team: 1) modify the search processes; (I ask each of you on hiring committees, is what we are doing now bringing in a truly diverse hiring pool? Can we do more?); 2) add diversity statements to all job posts to show we welcome and value candidates from diverse backgrounds; 3) use a diversity rubric; and 4) leaders must get personally involved with hiring.

This Woman Building Bio conference gave me a chance to publicly affirm my commitment to foster a culture that purposefully and actively supports female mentorship and leadership learning opportunities. I welcome your ideas. Share them within your departments, programs, to our diversity, equity and inclusion committee representatives and with HR. Together we can create a multitude opportunities for women in STEM to not only have a seat at the table, but also to be meaningfully supported, to thrive and to lead.

Visit the Dean's Blog for more insights from Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm.