Building a Global Network for Women and Girls in Science

Contributed by Ana Paula S. Carvalho, Ph. D. and Kelly S. Ramirez, Ph. D.

“Unity makes us all better and stronger, and only together we will move the needle in the fight for gender equality.”
- Jennifer DaSilva in Refinery29

Mentorship is a crucial part of professional development in STEM. Mentors are usually responsible for guiding students to achieve their goals, not only for their research but also for their career. Mentors can also play an important role in helping their mentees build a network that will be crucial for future collaborations, job opportunities, and general advancement in a scientists’ career. A flawed mentorship relationship can affect mentees' productivity, willingness to stay in academia, as well as their mental health, especially when students are part of underrepresented groups. However, and undoubtedly related to the fact that women represent only 30% of the scientific researchers, mentorship roles are often occupied by men, which commonly results in a mentorship model designed for men. These dynamics inevitably create an environment that is far from ideal for women’s success. This problem is even more complex for women of color, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, people with disabilities, and others who do not fit into the status quo.

Mentorship can have many forms, from the traditional senior or experienced person providing advice and guidance to the peer model, and mentorship can even take non-human forms: like books or helpful websites. Regardless of the model of mentorship (and ideally one can find mentorship in many forms), it is critical that a mentor understands a mentees goals, ideals and world experiences. If girls and women do not have access to appropriate mentorship and networking experience, it can certainly limit their professional opportunities during their careers.

500 Women Scientist LogoYet tapping into a network of mentors that understands your experiences and having people who can be your sponsor when in comes time for promotion is not an easy ask, especially if you are in a field where few people who look like you are in positions of leadership. This idea that science is not equally accessible to everyone, and overlooks the intersectionality of scientists, underlies the mission of 500 Women Scientists, a global organization founded by Kelly Ramirez and Jane Zelikova, that aims to improve society by making science open, inclusive and accessible for all. We recognize that the playing field is not even, that the institution of science was not built with women in mind, and that there continues to be a large imbalance in who is rewarded and promoted due to biases against those that do not "fit in".

Our organization began with a pledge, reaffirming our values for equity and inclusion in science, and specifically:

Use every day as an opportunity to demonstrate to young girls and women that they are welcome and needed in science; and Set examples through mentorship and through fostering an atmosphere of encouragement and collaboration, not one of divisiveness;

Since our origin we have worked tirelessly to identify and address the challenges that most hinder women in science. We have built a global network of Pods, local chapters that enact change in their communities (over 120 in the US and 190 abroad). We launched Request a Woman Scientist, a web platform - with over 8 thousand registered women - that allows journalists, educators and other scientists to easily find women scientists, effectively eliminating the excuse that “we just couldn’t find any women in science”.

We want to further expand our organization through also being a platform that promotes mentorship and networking opportunities for women in science. We want to be a bridge that connects women for guidance, collaborations, and mentorship beyond our established Pods and Request a Scientist database. As a first step, we have designed a survey that will be launched in May 2019 and will help us understand where the current mentorship style is failing women and other underrepresented groups. We want to know what tools and resources our organization can offer to help women succeed. If you are interested, sign up for our newsletter or  join a pod today. If you have any suggestions or questions about the work of 500 Women Scientists on mentorship, please email us at info@500womenscientists.org

Already want to get started on improving your mentorship and finding yourself sponsors? Check out this list of resources.

Ana Paula S. Carvalho is a Ph.D. Candidate in Entomology at the University of Florida, working on sexual behavior and evolution of sexual traits in butterflies. She is also part of the leadership team of 500 Women Scientists, helping to coordinate projects on mentorship.

Kelly S. Ramirez is an American living abroad in the Netherlands, where she is a postdoctoral scholar at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology. Kelly is a soil ecologist interested in characterizing the diversity and Kelly Ramirezbiogeographical patterns of soil microbes across the globe. She has studied microbial communities across the globe- even from the soils in Central Park, NYC. In November 2016, Kelly and her colleague Dr. Jane Zelikova founded 500 Women Scientists, an organization with a mission to make science open, inclusive and accessible, and to be the foremost organization for the transformation of leadership, diversity, and public engagement in science. In two years, the organization has grown to more than 25K women and supporters worldwide, and has more than 300 local chapters with 8,000 participants.