A group of scientists was frustrated by the lack of other women represented in their field, on conference panels (or “manels,” aka male-only panels), and in the media following the 2016 US election. So they launched a small expert database called 500 Women Scientists to shine a spotlight.
Interest was staggering: More than 9,000 women joined the Request a Scientist database.
“The excuse that you can’t find a qualified woman, it just doesn’t hold,” Dr. Kelly Ramirez-Donders, a 500 Women Scientists co-founder and a microbial ecologist and post-doctoral researcher at the Netherlands Institute for Ecology, told Good Morning America. “Saying that you couldn’t find a woman is lazy because there are lots of exceptionally qualified women who can talk to you about their work.”
Jane Zelikova, the group’s co-founder and a Colorado-based ecologist, hopes to disprove the stereotype that girls and women aren’t good at science.
"It’s not that girls are not interested in science," says Zelikova. "Something happens where they don’t see women or girls represented as scientists and they don’t think it’s for them."
We are members of racial, ethnic, and religious minority groups.— 500womenscientists (@500womensci) November 15, 2018
We are immigrants.
We are people with disabilities.
We are LGBTQIA.
We are scientists.
We are women. https://t.co/7B0xdoHc1J
Ramirez-Donders and Zelikova, who were grad school classmates, authored a pledge they hoped 500 people would sign. They received 20,000 signatures.
“We wanted to unite and take action in our communities and say, 'We stand for equity and inclusion in science,'" said Ramirez-Donders
After the strong response, they created more than 300 chapters of 500 Women Scientists groups, or “pods,” around the world. They also now offer a fellowship, tools to make sure scientific meetings are inclusive, support for mothers who work in science, Wikipedia Edit-a-thons to "combat bias on the free encyclopedia’s pages," and have launched a related organization, 500 Women in Medicine.
"In our experience and the studies we’ve seen, there is no meritocracy in science," Zelikova told GMA. "There is a structured, hierarchical system where people in power tend to benefit from being in power and white men continued to benefit from the structures that they built."
"The system was working as it intended to. It just wasn’t working for us," she said, adding that "us" also includes people of color and any underrepresented group.
Zelikova hopes to send a message that “you are wanted and needed in science. Your perspective is important and science is better when we all participate. We need every voice."