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Dean's Blog: Promoting Hope and Taking Action

Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm

One of my first blog posts discussed a topic I believe is a critical component of our college’s success: a diverse, equitable, and inclusive STEM pipeline for all. Throughout March, during Women’s History Month, (within its theme of Providing Healing, Promoting Hope), our social media has highlighted successful females blazing trails in STEM both across the sciences and within our Mason Science community as exemplars of success and role models to inspire students, faculty, and staff.

Almost a year ago, we put forward a draft Inclusive Excellence Plan for the college and got to work, focusing our efforts on underrepresented groups, one of the most notable, Women in STEM. According to the recent census, “women are nearly half of the U.S workforce, but only 27% of STEM workers.”

President Washington and I participated in the regional Women Building Bio event, sponsored the national STEM NOIRE conference, and two documentaries Coded Bias and Picture a Scientist to help our community better understand the challenges women face in our scientific fields. For those of you who haven’t seen the 2020 documentary, Picture a Scientist yet on Netflix, it presents a new chapter for women in science, illuminating and challenging bias with examples that female researchers and educators faced at their various institutions. It is because of the historical difficulties for women in STEM that we have supported and recognized outreach activities like FOCUS and student groups, such as  SPECTRUM, who are working diligently and with purpose encouraging our community to cultivate and participate in such networks.

Critical components are now in place to drive the strategic priority to address this gap.

We recently hired Paula Danquah-Brobby as our A-JEDI* champion (*Access, Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion). I’ve also appointed Tina Bell as a Dean’s Faculty Fellow charged with establishing a Women in STEM Leadership Program for the college.

This program seeks to support our female students, faculty, and staff--to strengthen and grow their professional networks and ultimately each individual’s personal confidence while successfully navigating their respective scientific fields. Read Tina’s Q&A to learn how you can take part in this effort.

Although Mason Science, with a majority female student population, has a strong, solid foundation on which to build such an important effort, (62% undergrads and 51% graduate students identify as female), there is much work to do.

Although we are gaining ground, we have yet to achieve similar and consistent female representation across our faculty, specifically in leadership and career progression opportunities. Moreover, the numbers are less favorable when we factor in intersectional identities (e.g., BIPOC or LGBTQIA2S+ women in STEM).

Research highlights the importance of women having mentors who are not only gender aligned but also

more strongly aligned on other dimensions of identity (e.g., race); this is critical for women from historically marginalized populations. Since it's not possible yet for every woman to have a mentor that looks like her / belongs to the same marginalized groups / has similar intersections of identity, to bridge our current gap, as a Mason Science community, we should strive to cultivate a robust, diverse, and safe network of allies committed to this purpose.

During this Women’s History Month, I encourage you to take steps to help move the needle in our community: 1) Reach out to Tina Bell to see how you can engage; 2) Watch documentaries, attend this Friday’s Women in STEM panel, or read the research highlighted in this blog to better understand the bias which exists; and 3) Actively engage as an ally for A-JEDI programs to evolve our culture.

Our time to change is now. If we seek diversity, equity and inclusion in the broadest sense, we each must take a more impactful role. Let’s ask the question together: what can we do differently at this moment in time to move towards a brighter, hopeful, and more diverse STEM future?