More than ever before in history, women are pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (collectively known as STEM). Yet, this significant increase in women’s educational achievements has not been accompanied by an increase in women’s representation in the workplace. Financial barriers to entering education and pursuing research endeavors, or simply managing cultural and societal expectations with the demands of higher education and careers in STEM fields, cause many talented women to become victims of the “leaky pipeline,” a metaphor to describe retention problems for women in STEM. As a result, women are strongly underrepresented in STEM disciplines and leadership positions, sending a discouraging message to younger generations.
The low representation of women in the STEM workforce also signifies a missed opportunity for society. By ignoring the perspectives and contributions of half the population, we miss a chance to improve creativity, productivity, and innovation in STEM development. One solution to this problem is to create and promote fellowships and funding for women in STEM. These funding mechanisms can help overcome financial difficulties to access education, provide mentoring opportunities, incentivize research independence, and help accommodate personal situations such as family responsibilities.
As a woman in STEM myself, I have greatly benefited from such opportunities. Fellowships and grants have allowed me access to higher education and the pursuit of a doctoral degree, and opportunities to travel abroad to conduct postdoctoral studies and become a professor and independent researcher. As a Latina student and the first person in my family to ever attend graduate school, my odds to succeed and remain in STEM were far from high. Nevertheless, I accessed higher education thanks to government fellowships, and I emigrated to the United States with an international scholarship. As an immigrant scientist, there were also very few funding opportunities that I was eligible for, but a fellowship from Graduate Women in Science supported me and served as a catalyst for a successful research career.
I was granted the means to establish independence and become a mentor for the next generation of scientists. And my personal story is just one example of how financial support and opportunities can help fight the “leaky pipeline.”