Laurie Burns McRobbie

Opening Remarks at the Women in Science Panel

November 20, 2014

Good afternoon. I’m delighted to be here today, with such great examples of Indiana’s current and future leaders in science. Before we get started, I want to thank School of Science Dean Simon Rhodes, both for inviting me to be here and for his dynamic leadership of this outstanding program. I also want to recognize Dean David Russamano who is with us this afternoon, for his tremendous efforts to engage women in engineering.  And I want to thank Brandi, Sydney, Crystal, and Anna for sharing your current research with us all. All of us here believe in the ability of women to contribute at the highest levels, and you are all clearly on the way to doing just that.

I’m excited to have this opportunity to initiate a dialogue about women’s engagement in science, math, informatics, and technology at the university. Increasing opportunities for women in all the sciences is a priority for Indiana University, and in recent years, much has been accomplished to meet this important objective, particularly here in Indianapolis.

Earlier today I had the great pleasure of touring the Women in Science House, IUPUI’s living and learning community for women students pursuing science disciplines. I heard from several of the residents how important the program has been in providing critical academic, professional, and social support.

Another great program on this campus is the “Central Indiana Science Talent Expansion Project.” This project is making significant strides in increasing women and diversity in STEM and includes:

  • The new Science Career Development Services and a new Physics Learning Space at IUPUI;
  • an undergraduate research mentoring program in biological sciences designed to attract underrepresented women in science;
  • and the “Bridges to Baccalaureate Program” that brings underrepresented minority students from Ivy Tech to IUPUI to engage in research projects.

Across Indiana University, we can see the university’s commitment to increasing diversity in STEM disciplines. On IU’s regional campuses, a number of initiatives are underway, and a few examples include:

  • IU Northwest’s implementation of the “Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation” program that provides additional summer workshops and mentorships for math and science majors;
  • IPFW’s “Society of Women Engineers,” which is a very active society that engages women engineers through conferences, professional development opportunities, and mentoring;
  • IU Kokomo’s “Science Rocks! Summer Camp” for middle school students attracts a large number of females and other underrepresented groups to STEM programming.
On the Bloomington campus, there are several efforts to promote women in the sciences and in technology. The Provost’s Office offers a professional development fund that supports research and conference attendance for more than 100 women scientists each year.

Much like the Women in Science House at IUPUI, Bloomington has the Women in STIM Living-Learning Residential Community that provides undergraduate women access to resources and facilities equipped for STIM exploration. And recently, we launched the Center of Excellence for Women in Technology, a multi-disciplinary effort that is working to create a more welcoming and supportive climate for women at all stages of their academic and professional careers. 

We have focused the Center on technology in large part because of all the STEM disciplines, computer science and other technology fields have some of the lowest percentages of women and minorities.  But as we all know, technology is everywhere. In a little over a year, CEWiT has become a unifying force for women even beyond science and technology fields on the Bloomington campus.

All of these efforts address a stubbornly persistent problem – the gender gap in computing, information technology, engineering, mathematics, and many science disciplines.

According to 2012 Census Bureau data, 53% of college graduates are women, but they only make up 41% of STEM graduates. And if you break this statistic down even further, women receive only 18.2% of bachelor’s degrees in computer sciences, 18.4% of engineering degrees, and 19% of mathematics and statistics degrees.

Why is this so important, especially at a time where women have more freedom to choose what we want to do?

We’ve all heard the oft-cited forecasts that show the tremendous need for a technically literate workforce along with a shortage in available employees. Women and minorities represent relatively untapped pools of talent that our national and global economies demand. But we can also see the lack of diversity reflected in many other areas, such as how research is done, and how products are designed and produced. 

I won’t venture into “Teeshirtgate” (or my favorite, “Shirtstorm”) that nearly overshadowed the EU’s remarkable landing of a probe on the surface of a comet last week, but there are other examples, such as the legacy of research into cardiovascular disease that used only male subjects, who manifest the disease and respond to treatments differently than women.  And yet heart disease is the #1 killer of women. 

In the area of design, we’ve seen a lack of attention to the physical differences between men and women in everything from airbags and seatbelts to the design of Google Glass. And yet women make over 80% of the purchasing decisions. And we also continue to see low numbers of women and minorities on corporate boards and management teams, and yet, we have the research by organizations like Catalyst, that shows that diverse teams make better decisions. 

We need to keep working on the barriers that keep women, and minorities, from seeing themselves as technologists, mathematicians, engineers, and scientists, because the future excellence of our research, educational, and commercial endeavors demand that we do.

Today, we hope to share with you ways to both “lean in” as you empower yourself as full participants in your chosen fields, as well as “lean on” your teachers, your mentors, your fellow students, your university - for support in reaching your goals and realizing your dreams. As women in science, we have the tremendous opportunity and obligation to create pathways for ourselves and for future female scientists, mathematicians, or technologists.

Let’s take a moment to meet today’s panelists. These three outstanding women scientists will share with us their stories and strategies for empowering women in science, overcoming the gender gap, and mentoring the next generation.

First, let me welcome IUPUI’s Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Associate Professor of Biology, and Director the Urban Center for the Advancement of STEM Education, Dr. Kathy Marrs.

Dr. Marrs’ commitment to expand STEM education to youth, especially urban and at-risk populations, is unparalleled. She is a powerful advocate for providing access to STEM education to underrepresented youth. And in case you haven’t already seen it, I encourage you all to watch Dr. Marrs’ inspirational TedX talk about engaging the next generation in STEM. Because of her work, research, and commitment to students in STEM, Dr. Marrs was awarded the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, the School of Science Teaching Award, and she was recognized as a “Woman Creating Excellence” at IUPUI.

Also with us today is Dr. Peggy Stockdale, Professor and Chair in the Department of Psychology at IUPUI.

Dr. Stockdale’s focus is in industrial and organizational psychology, and she is a leading researcher and expert in gender issues in the workplace. She has published several books and articles about sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and gender-based stereotypes in the office. Dr. Stockdale has served as an expert witness to testify in workplace discrimination cases, and she is currently working on research on “institutionalism and transformational leadership for changing the situation for women in STEM.”

And as our third panelist, I’d like to introduce Jennifer Wolfgram, who is the Vice President of Commercial Education at Roche Diagnostics Corporation. Jennifer leads organizational development and training at Roche – a company that was named one of “Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to work for.” She is an advocate for gender diversity in the workplace and she serves as the advisory board chairperson for “Roche’s Women’s Leadership Initiative.”

Recently, Jennifer delivered a keynote address at the 2014 Integrating Women Leaders Conference and she states that it’s “okay to take a risk” and ‘it’s okay to be insecure, and to share those insecurities.” I think this is an excellent reminder to all women in science – experienced, or those that are just starting out. We all face moments of doubt and insecurity, and I hope this panel today helps elucidate the great reward for risk-taking women in science.