New program helps women persist and overcome stigma in STEM – UB Now: News and insights for UB faculty and staff


Institutions committed to helping women succeed in STEM careers can now use a new training program designed to provide graduate students with the tools to deal with gender-based career bias and discrimination.

The free training material is the result of a US National Science Foundation (NSF) grant called the NAVIGATE Project., a collaboration between researchers at UB and California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) that aims to increase the number of women graduates in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) who persist in the disciplines of their choice and hold managerial positions.

“Despite widespread efforts and industry demand to increase the participation of women in STEM careers, they continue to be under-represented and frequently report bias in STEM workplaces, which in turn pushes people to many people are leaving STEM fields, ”says Liesl Folks, principal investigator on the project and volunteer professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at UB.

In 2019, women made up about half of the U.S. workforce, but only 37% of the STEM workforce, according to the US Census Bureau. The NAVIGATE project aims to increase this number by teaching women graduates in STEM how to deal with discrimination, both interpersonal and organizational.

“Our aspiration is to provide them with understanding and strategic tools that will help them stay long term in STEM careers,” said Folks, who was Dean of the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences from 2013-19 and is now senior vice president. for Academic Affairs and Rector at the University of Arizona.

A key component of the training program is a set of 10 peer-reviewed case studies that explore issues related to gender biases, inequalities and discrimination in the STEM workplace. The cases are based on real life experiences of working women.

“Each case takes the form of a brief scenario but rich in context, similar to a story that involves a dilemma that the protagonist of the case must resolve,” explains Nancy Schiller, co-principal investigator and co-director of the National Center. for teaching science case studies and a former UB librarian. “This type of dilemma case is designed to explore the contingencies and practical consequences of personal decision making and promote strategic problem solving, with the ultimate goal of helping students develop skills to navigate the dynamics of power of the workplace. “

The case studies were combined with guest speakers to create a formal training program which was then carried out with three cohorts of graduate STEM students at UB. The use of social media tools has been integrated to provide additional engagement and support to participants.

Women who participated in the NAVIGATE project report that it has helped them recognize that the gender biases and harassment they have experienced in workplaces, laboratories and classrooms in science and engineering are not commonplace. their fault, and they are not alone, ”said Coleen Carrigan, principal. investigator on the NAVIGATE project and associate professor in the Department of Social Sciences at Cal Poly. “They told us how relieved they are to have these moments of awareness of sexism and prejudice, which allow them to work with other women to devise strategies to combat this discriminatory and unfair treatment.

While the training tools have been designed for women enrolled in graduate STEM degrees, some materials can also be used for groups of women early in their careers in STEM organizations or for senior citizens in their prime. cycle in STEM.

The NAVIGATE project is funded by an NSF Research Traineeship grant under the Innovations of Graduate Education component. Other researchers at UB include Glenna Bett, associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Laurene Tumiel-Berhalter, associate professor and vice chair of research in the Department of Family Medicine. Both departments are part of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB.

A full set of training materials are now available online.

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