Women in Science: Celebrating Diversity
Women have been battling for equal rights for decades, including pay, access to higher education, and equal recognition in their field compared to their male counterparts. We have to recognize that progress has been made, but not at the speed that we would like for the future generations of female scientists. Perhaps it is worth asking if we are hindering our own opportunities of growth, development and innovation? Women constitute nearly half of the working force in the United States (2,3). However, they are still underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM); for example, women only held 27% of STEM jobs in 2019 (2,3). If we dig a little deeper, we find that minority groups – including African Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians or Alaska Natives- remain overwhelmingly underrepresented in STEM (2,3). In other words, their representation in these occupations and education is smaller than that of the US population. This has been a concern to policymakers that advocate for the development and employment of diverse human capital to keep the US a global competitor in STEM (1-3).
The STEM workforce plays a key role in keeping the United States as the beacon of innovation and technology. The biotechnology industry depends on a group of leaders that are driven, creative, motivated, productive and highly educated. In order to advance, we need to recognize that women are capable of all these things, and that they are qualified to lead a team. A recent report by Rock Health (2018) reveals that the percentage of women that are venture capitalist partners or that hold positions at the highest level remains low, 12.2% and 10.2%, respectively. According to the “Women in the Workplace” report by McKinsey and Lean, female representation at the senior corporate level has increased only 4% since 2015 (5). Moreover, the National Science Foundation reported that women make up 25% of tenure track academics in science and engineering, and more than 25% of scientists in research and development of industry (3). Unfortunately, those numbers don’t translate into academics patenting their discoveries, starting biotech companies, or serving on scientific advisory boards (3,4). International Women’s Day (March 8) remains a day to celebrate the achievements of women around the world. This day was created in an effort to share the triumphs and challenges faced by women working in science. In searching about this topic, I realized that early-career women are in need of fierce female role models who can show them that women both belong and succeed in STEM fields. The Healthcare Technology Report highlighted 25 women leaders in Biotechnology for their instrumental role in developed, in unprecedented record times, innovative products to improve health outcomes during the age of COVID-19 (1). Herein, we highlight the ongoing contribution of two recent graduates of the MS in Georgetown Biotechnology Program and celebrate both their diversity and their impact upon science.
Josefina Correa is native from Uruguay, that loves science and, similar to many immigrants, decided to travel to the US to fulfil her dreams. She is the Chief Executive Officer of Xeptiva Therapeutics, which develops first-in-class immunotherapies for the treatment of neurogenic inflammation in companion animals. She is also a project management consultant at Larta Institute, a start-up accelerator in Los Angeles, CA. In 2014, Josefina joined the Masters in Biotechnology at Georgetown University to “understand how something that you do in the lab can impact society”. During that time, she felt that there was a deep disconnection between academic research and what was happening in the real world, and she wanted to do something to bridge this gap. She encourages young scientists, especially women, to believe in themselves, to go out and make meaningful connections, to show your strengths, and to try new things even if they might feel scary.
Monika Mahajaniis the Senior Communications & Marketing Strategist at National Institutes of Health, Small Business Education and Entrepreneurial Development (SEED) office. She came to the US with her family at the age of six from India. Her interest in the business of scientific innovation sparked as an undergraduate after taking a biochemistry class that focused on case studies, and then continued after working with a Biochemical Engineering professor that started his small business from data generated in the laboratory. After working for BiotechEra, she joined the Master in Biotechnology at Georgetown because she felt the program merged the science with the business allowing us to explore innovation. Monika has indicated that she would like to see more diversity in gender and ethnicity in the field of biotechnology; and although we are finally starting to move toward that direction, “there is still a need of women mentors that can help identify the next steps in your career”. She would like to let future generations of women in STEM know that there is a place for each of them and that there is a position out there that can generate a strong sense of fulfillment.
The Masters in Biotechnology Program at Georgetown was founded in 1997 and since then our program has strived to encourage women interested in biotechnology to apply to our program and pursue their dreams. We are proud to report that the Biotechnology Program’s Spring 2021 cohort is over 60 percent female, many of whom are from an underrepresented background. With more work to do, Georgetown Biotechnology will continue to make STEM a more equally represented community of scientists by doing its part to educate the next generation of women interested in the intersection of science and business.
Written by: Maria Fe Lanfranco, PhD (candidate: BioBusiness Certificate)
Edits by: Kyle A. DiVito, PhD