Barriers to Closing the STEM Gender Gap

I think the most obvious barrier is the long-standing misconception that women may not be as skilled in STEM fields as men. This widespread unconscious bias against women who seek a career in STEM may be the hardest to address because it resides within individual perceptions. It cannot be eliminated through textbooks, or legislation, or corporate mandates—though all of these elements are important for raising awareness.

To overcome this bias, women in STEM may have to work harder and longer than men to succeed. And those who tire of the fight and abandon a STEM career may unintentionally discourage other women in the field. This is why it is incumbent on women working in STEM fields to continue swimming against the current of unconscious bias.

Moving Women Forward in STEM

As a woman involved in the legal and public health implications of STEM, I think about the field broadly, to include all sorts of ancillary industries—such as the legal industry—that play a role in advancing STEM. I studied law while earning a Master of Public Health degree, and was excited to pursue a career in STEM that married these two passions.

As a food and drug lawyer whose clients are engaged in the “hard” science work we think of as STEM, I have come to see the importance of ancillary industries, like law, that support and enable those efforts. I have, therefore, focused on mentoring and advancing other women in the legal field, and encouraging them to expand their views of what a STEM career can be.

Why a STEM Career?

In STEM fields, no two days at work are the same. In my practice, advising FDA-regulated entities, the technology is always changing. Science is always changing. Discoveries are made every day, and the law often needs to catch up. The work is absolutely fascinating, and I am always learning something new—often with practical application to my life and the lives of those around me.

Pursuing a career in, or one focused on, STEM is not easy; it requires a constant hunger and appreciation for learning—more days than not, I come home with my brain in a twist. But I can’t imagine I’d have as interesting a career—and as brilliant clients—had I not pursued STEM professionally.