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How This D1 Softball Star Is Rallying Thousands of Female Scientists

People

Although athletics and scientific advocacy sound like they don't have too much in common, according to Jackie Giovanniello, the two are actually quite synergistic. “Being part of a supportive, tight knit group of women was always part of my life, both in sports and in science," says the talented softballer-cum-female scientist. “I've always been used to that."


Giovanniello, a Ph.D. neuroscience student at Cold Spring Harbor Lab, has launched a new Women In Science Initiative (WiSE) with the goal of getting more women into lab coats. Giovanniello says she came up with the idea when she took note of the fact that she was one of the only woman in her research lab. “We have 19 percent female faculty," says Giovanniello, adding that number is actually higher than the national average, which is around 11 percent. (That number represents all women in STEM who have tenured positions). “Nationally women get 50 percent of the Ph.D.s in science, particularly in biological sciences, and that's caused a lot of people, particularly men, to think there isn't much of a problem. But these women are leaking out of the pipeline for reasons that are often not their choice."

According to Giovanniello, who employs a decidedly grassroots approach to her advocacy, the numbers tell a story. She reports that 35 percent of Post Docs are women, meaning after receiving a Ph.D., the industry loses 15 percent of women, and then another significant amount from that point to faculty. To help keep women in the industry, Giovanniello decided to take matters into her own hands. She and two fellow female scientists joined together to figure out how to provide women with more resources, policies and processes to be successful in the field. “I was shocked that so little was being done," says Giovanniello. “It's so commonplace because so many institutions are not addressing this issue from an administrative level."

From there Giovanniello went to the administration and told them she wanted to start a Women In Science initiative, which would be part grassroots (i.e. offering professional development, mentoring, and networking), but also would encapsulate educational outreach for young girls in the community, notable underserved communities in Long Island. After receiving a $10K grant from the Patrina Foundation in the summer of 2015, Giovanniello got to work.

Among the female-specific offerings are The MccLintock Lectures, named after Nobel prize winner, Barbara MccLintock; where female scientific changemakers are invited to come share strategies for success to audiences filled with aspiring female scientists. “It's not just going to be a girls group that meets to chat," she says. “We want to create change and foster discussion [among scientific thought leaders]."

Additionally, Giovanniello is working on a master list of established female scientists so that the community can rally behind itself, and more women can add to it and continue circling it. “When we don't see women on scientific panels and are told it's because there are no women in the field, we can say here, and show them a list of 3,000 women who are doing amazing things," says Giovanniello, who plans to unveil the list to the public in December.

Here, we speak to the dedicated scientific advocate about her passion project, and how shifting the few can quickly mean impacting the many.

Dr. Lydia Villa-Komaroff, Molecular Biologist and Founding member of SACNAS

1. What was it like creating an initiative like this as a new graduate student? Where did you start?

Hard! But surprisingly educational and empowering at the same time. Scientists work incredibly hard, it's part of the culture to spend 80 hour weeks in the lab for years – especially in your Ph.D. and Post-Doc years. So when I started to put a lot of my attention and time into building WiSE, I got feedback that I needed to focus more or that I wasn't as committed to science as I should be. But anyone who's worked with me knows that I'm pretty hard to dissuade from doing things I set my mind to. So I pushed through and sacrificed some sleep, to make sure my science still always came first. It's a double standard, and it's unfortunate, but women have to work much harder to make sure we don't slip. And to make sure we don't give male scientists any reason to doubt our commitment, our intellect, or our work ethic.

We started with a panel discussion and had women Faculty at the lab talk about their experiences in science and issues they've faced being a woman. We had over 100 employees attend, which was super encouraging as CSHL is a relatively small institution. It showed us there was clearly interest in the topic, and that people wanted to talk more about these issues. From there, we got to work planning workshops, organizing roundtable discussions, writing grants, and working with the administration shape our mission and realistic goals. It was a work in progress, we were constantly evaluating the effects of what we were doing and reshaping our focus to make sure we were addressing what women scientists needed from us.

Scientists and administrators from institutions throughout the Tri-state area gathered at the 2nd Annual Greater NYC Summer Networking BBQ in August.

2. How did you know there was a need for WiSE and what gaps does WiSE address with its three areas of focus?

I did my undergraduate work at Brown University. Brown's a place where very early on, students are taught how and why advocacy is so important. You're taught to never stop speaking up and that if you don't see what you need, it's up to you to build it. I've carried that sentiment with me since, and when I realized there were no resources for women scientists at my institution, despite the huge gap in representation here and throughout the field, I didn't think twice about trying to solve that problem.

WiSE now works to address the lack of women in STEM fields at three levels. First, we provide professional development resources and networking and mentorship opportunities for current women scientists. We particularly focus on Ph.D. and Post-Doc level women, as studies have shown that those are the career points when women tend to leave the field. Second, we work to increase representation of women scientists at the institutional level. Third, we provide STEM education and empowerment opportunities for young girls in underserved areas in our community.

WiSE Technology Initiatives Chair, Shaina Lu (left), posed with a friend at the 2nd Annual Greater NYC Summer Networking BBQ.

3. We hear a lot about the fact that we need more women in STEM, but not much about why. Can you share why this is such an important crusade?

Science is a discipline that awards those who think outside the box. Discoveries aren't made by following the status quo, but by attacking problems from new angles and with new techniques. Creativity is a huge part of making that happen and a diversity of backgrounds, experiences, and strengths, fosters that creativity. Sampling from only a select group of the population stifles that diversity and limits our scientific potential.

4. Can you speak a little bit about your experience as a woman in science? Was it harder for you?

I'm what they call “First-Gen". Meaning, I was the first in my family to go to college. I'm also the only person in my family to go to graduate school. So I'm used to feeling like I don't quite fit the mold. But even with that experience, it was hard to ignore the shock-factor of being a woman in science. It's a common scenario to be one of just a handful of women at a scientific meeting or conference or to scroll through a list of 25 seminar speakers and find only one or two women invited. Almost every woman scientist can tell you about a time a male colleague “mansplained" them at a seminar, or dismissed their ideas in a lab meeting. Many women can even speak about instances of overt gender discrimination or sexual harassment at their institution. It's, unfortunately, part of the culture of working in a male-dominated field – not unlike business or politics. Part of what WiSE tries to provide is a supportive network where women can learn how to address those experiences, and how to make sure they stop happening to both themselves and other women scientists. We really focus on turning those experiences into tangible solutions.

WiSE Vice-President, Lital Chartarifsky (left), and President, Jackie Giovanniello (right), with Keynote Speaker, Ivy Algazy (middle), CEO and Founder of the Ivy Network

5. Can you speak about women in science historically? Is it true many were not given the credit they deserved for their discoveries?

Absolutely, it's improved but it's still not great. Look at this year's list of Nobel Laureates – all men. It's definitely not for a lack of women scientists making groundbreaking discoveries. In fact, WiSE writes “WiSE Wednesday" profiles on historical women scientists who made major discoveries in STEM. We've been doing this each week for two years and have still not run out of women to highlight. I think the problem is two-fold, it's the fact that men and women are unconsciously more likely to champion the achievements of men and that women often do not feel confident enough to advocate for themselves or their work.

6. Do you have any statistics you can share about women currently in science in the US? Is this also an international issue?

In the US, women receive 42% of doctoral degrees in STEM fields. However, only 36% of Post-Doctoral Fellows are women and 20% of tenured faculty in these fields are women. Despite arguments that this discrepancy is due to women leaving the field entirely or choosing positions in industry instead, these studies have shown that 51% of all doctoral degree holders in STEM fields are women and these ratios are similar in industry and government STEM positions. This tells us that women scientists are not leaving STEM en masse, but that they are not occupying the highest-ranking positions in these fields. Because science is a very global community, this effect is seen throughout the field. While some countries skew better than others in the proportion of women scientists, there are always substantially more men at every level.

7. How important is having a culturally and racially diverse female pool of scientists tapped to solve our world's most pressing problems?

What I mentioned before, about workforce diversity enhancing our scientific potential, is just as true for cultural and racial diversity as it is for gender. Women scientists who are also underrepresented minorities are doubly disadvantaged in our field. This is something WiSE has expanded to work on in the last year. We've created a Diversity Committee and hosted Dr. Lydia Villa-Komaroff, the founding member of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native American in Science, and all-around amazing advocate for increasing diversity of underrepresented minorities in STEM. She gave a presentation about the current (abysmal) demographics in STEM and then she, and a panel of URMs at our institution spoke about their experiences and specific strategies we can take as a community to empower these groups. This is definitely something we need to focus heavily on moving forward.

8. What do you think the most important advice for women scientists is?

Be the strong, confident, and determined version of yourself. Many of the women scientists who've succeeded in STEM, did so because they acted more like their male colleagues. They felt they needed to be competitive, aggressive, and the loudest voice in every room. But we know that women don't need to be like men to be brilliant, creative, successful, scientists. They just need to be themselves. So even though we encourage women to give more confident presentations, and take on riskier projects despite doubting themselves, it's important that women identify and utilize the traits that make them unique and great contributors to this field. Science needs to change to appreciate women, not the other way around.

9. What are WiSE's long-term plans?

We're really excited because WiSE was awarded our second grant from the Patrina Foundation this year. This funding will allow us to almost double our efforts in providing professional development resources and STEM outreach programs for girls in underserved communities. Long-term, we hope to work with more WiSE groups in NYC and the tri-state area to help implement some of the programs that have been successful here at CSHL. One of the areas women are often great at is collaborating and we want to make sure we're using what we've learned to help to lift up more women scientists at other institutions.

10. What are other areas you'd love to advocate for related to the culture of STEM?

I think there needs to be way more discussion about the mental health of trainees (graduate students and Post-Docs). STEM fields are intellectually and culturally rigorous. Science can be isolating and deliver you failure after failure no matter how hard you work. While the stress often helps scientists develop their perseverance and grit, it can also ignite and exacerbate mental illnesses – particularly anxiety and depression. We need to shed light on the vast number of trainees suffering from these disorders, get rid of the stigma, and provide resources to address them so they can flourish personally and scientifically. Science benefits from a physically and mentally healthy workforce.

11. Have you seen any proof that the needle is being shifted? Can you give examples?

Gender and racial biases in STEM are broad problems that are rooted in the endemic patriarchal and racist structures of our society and manifest as implicit, unconscious biases in daily decision-making. So they're hard to tackle and hard to measure on a large scale.

Rectifying these issues will take more than providing professional development workshops and mentorship networks. It requires conscious and continual correction by all scientists and administrators in every decision they make. But I do think the needle is being shifted. In every sector, more women are rising up to the highest ranks and most importantly, are turning around and helping to pull other women up with them. We need to harness this momentum and build on it exponentially.

Shaina Lu, Jackie Giovanniello, CSHL Director of Research Operations Sydney Gary, Lital Chartarifsky, Professor and HHMI Investigator Leemor Joshua-Tor, and her daughter, Avery Joshua-Tor at the 2nd Annual Greater NYC Summer Networking BBQ.

12. Can you share some of the most unsung female heroes in science?

I love sharing the stories of women who made cool discoveries that are still resonating today. One of them is Hedy Lamarr, she developed a frequency-hopping technology that served as the foundation for WiFi, GPS, and Bluetooth technologies. She was also an actress and composer – how cool is that? There's also Nettie Stevens who discovered that biological sex is inherited and termed the male-hereditary element, the “Y" chromosome. Unfortunately, she didn't get credit for this discovery as a male scientist made the same discovery shortly after and over-shadowed her contribution. This is a phenomenon you encounter frequently when reading about historical women scientists. However, WiSE brings these women's discoveries into the limelight with our WiSE Wednesday highlights each week. Find the rest of them here.

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Culture

Reflecting On My Assault In The Post #metoo Era

March 6, 2017. I will never forget the date and I will never forget the place. And despite an unfortunate series of events that evening that led me to be over-served, I will also never forget what he did or what he said and the squirmy high pitched voice he used that night.


At a bar in Manhattan after a work event, my business partner put his hand up my dress and pulled at my stockings, grabbing me by my crotch telling me over and over again that he just wanted to put his fingers up my pussy. Unimaginable. I must have been pretty drunk - maybe even blacked out - because I don't remember exactly what happened right before that. Not good. But what was even worse was this person who I knew and trusted took advantage of my condition and instead of helping me when I was clearly in bad shape, he hit on me. Or at least that is the way I looked at it initially.

He is very strong. I grabbed his forearm with both my hands and told him no and to stop and I tried to pull his hand out from under my dress.

He did not listen and he did not stop even though I told him no multiple times.

Even though I physically tried to fight him off.

It was bad. When something like that happens to you it plays a trick on your brain. If it was a stranger I would have yelled for help. But it was not. It was someone I knew and trusted. Eventually, I did get him to stop and convinced him that it was time to go. On 5th Avenue I told him we were both going home. He said he wanted to take me to a hotel. He started grabbing up my dress again and telling me again that he just wanted to put his fingers up my pussy.

"I have a big dick and you are going to like it." he said.

I continued to tell him no and to stop. He grabbed me again and literally put his tongue down my throat. I tried to push him off; to tell him no; to breathe.

But he was stronger than me and he didn't listen. I was nauseous. He made me nauseous and so did the wine and scotch that I drank that night. I managed to push him off with one big burst of strength. And then I went to the side of the building and threw up. I threw up the booze, I threw up his disgusting words, and I threw up his tongue being jammed down my throat.

He asked me if I was okay and I looked at him with anger and disgust and I said no.

"No I am not okay. This is not okay. You need to leave. Go home." I yelled. And he finally listened to me.

I woke up in my bed the next morning not feeling so well on all fronts. I had a text from his wife. Whom I never met. Asking if he had done anything inappropriate the night before. I was still thinking he hit on me. I panicked. "No. He was fine." I responded.

He called me later that morning and said he couldn't remember the night and asked me if I remembered anything. I let him know he hit on me and that he used disgusting language and he was completely out of line. That he wanted to take me to a hotel. He said he didn't remember.. "You told me you had a big male part and I was going to like it."

He snickered and said well I do but that's besides the point. And then he proceeds to tell me we were never going to talk about this again.

He was heading out on a guys trip and by the time he returned I was heading out to an industry conference. I hadn't told anyone. Not my family, not my friends, no one. It was 10 days since it happened.. My female colleague asked me at the conference how the partnership was going and I said not good. I told her he hit on me and that it was beyond awkward that it was disturbing. She asked me what happened and I told her the whole story.

"That's is not hitting on you that is sexual assault" she stated.

And that was the first time I ever considered that this was more than someone hitting on me. It was a lot to absorb. I knew I couldn't work with him anymore and I shared that with my friend. She said not only can't you not work with him but you have to report him. I really needed to wrap my head around this.

Before heading back east I changed travel plans and headed out to spend some time with my daughter who was working out west at the time. I shared what happened with her. She was appalled. She was clear. She reiterated what my colleague said. She was disgusted with this person and said I needed to report him. It was a reversal of roles but she gave great advice. I then shared what happened with my husband and then my other two children and then some of my friends.

The next day I met with my management team and shared what happened and included the details. It was so uncomfortable to do but I knew it had to be done. I told them that we were no longer going to work together and I was going to tell him but that I wanted to spare his family and not report him to HR. I know - silly me to think this way. Of course this warranted an HR intervention. This was not my works though and I think I was still in shock in a sense that this actually happened. My brain was still playing tricks on me.

I walked into his office and let him know I didn't want to work with him anymore. He was stunned. And then for the second time to date that weird whiny voice came out. Why? But I want to still work with you. Why don't you want to work with me? It was a trigger. I snapped. I then blasted him with exactly what he said and did that night. He covered his ears and said he couldn't listen anymore. There was no changing my mind and he agreed to part ways. And then he said he never wanted to talk about it again.

Until my manager called me at the end of the day and said it had to be reported to HR. I expressed my concern and asked if we could please not report it. I don't want him fired because he has a family and I didn't want that on me. Too bad too late it was serious and needed to be reported. My brain was still playing tricks on me. I knew he had crossed some serious lines and his actions were assault and a crime. Still it was someone I had known and worked with and trusted.

The next day he called my office. He shared that he told his wife and she was very angry but they were going to work it out. I am glad we will never have to talk about this again. We were going to responsibly separate our business so we needed to be cordial. I told him that unfortunately that will not be the case because HR is now involved. The high pitches voice came back. Oh my god why? What did you tell them? They are going to think I am an animal. Please please I am begging you call them up and tell them you were lying tell them take it back tell them you made it up. But I didn't lie, I didn't make it up, and I certainly wasn't going to retract what I shared. He called me back multiple times begging me to take it back. He begged me to tell management that I had made it up. He asked me that if I couldn't do it for him to do it for his family. I felt bad for his family but I told the truth and I wasn't going to retract it. His multiple calls bordered on harassment so I stopped taking his calls.

I received an email from HR. They wanted to meet with me to discuss my concerns that I raised with management. We met that week. She indicated that she had known my name as all external recognitions come through their office and they need to approve all nominations. It was an odd statement, almost a power play. Other than that, she came across as warm and supportive as I shared the entire story. I knew that he would be fired because as I recounted the events and the behavior I realized his actions violated more than company policy. I felt badly about that because of his family so I said I didn't want him fired. She proceeded to tell me that they would determine what to do and it was their job to decide what to do. She also said they wouldn't be able to tell me what they did. They would be meeting with him soon because of the nature of the incident.

A couple of days later, I knew they were meeting with him and I was sick to my stomach. Any minute now he would be fired for his behavior and actions and although I knew it was the right thing to do, I still struggled with the effect this would have on his family. I wasn't thinking clearly of course as he would be the reason he was fired, not me. It was his choice and his actions.

Later that day he was still employed and I couldn't figure out how that could be possible. I later received an email that the HR woman had more questions. Okay. The second meeting was disturbing. It took a very different turn and tone.

"If you are lying you will be fired. He could lose his job, his family and his livelihood. Are you sure you are not lying? And you may not discuss this with anyone. If you discuss this with anyone you could be fired." I was traumatized by this woman. She proceeded to make belittling comments and victim shame me. "I could see how he could get his hand up that dress. He said he was pulling on your stockings but not up by your crotch."

She then gave me an anatomy lesson on where in my body my vagina is - sharing that she has had this same anatomy conversation with her two young daughters (like 4 and 6) really?

"I told him to stop numerous times I told him no."

"He said you meant no not here."

"I had to literally pull his foreman out from my dress." Then she indicated that I really couldn't pull his arm from that angle. Insinuating that I was lying and making it all up.

This is what we refer to as victim-shaming and it is toxic behavior. And it actually is to me the more difficult aspect to overcome. There was more. But you get the picture.

Fast forward to October 2017 and the #metoo movement erupts. I have shared my experience with close friends and colleagues and have received tremendous support and for that I am grateful. I had lunch with a male colleague, a good friend who had been part of the team who hired me. He was in a position to refer clients and I wanted to know what he looks for when referring clients. He answered that he only refers to teams. I asked him why he doesn't refer client opportunities to me. He said because I don't have a partner. But I had a partner and you know it didn't work out. I am good at what I do. I don't need a partner I have a whole team. He then said yes he knew all about my partner and what happened. What did they tell you happened? That you had a prior relationship with him and it just didn't work out. What? There was no prior relationship. Did they tell you.... and then I proceeded to vomit out the whole incident ...omg no I didn't know. I am so sorry. No they didn't tell us that. It was just s bunch of us guys talking about it. It was a while ago. Don't worry. We all know you and know you are a quality person. Just put your head down and work and eventually everyone will forget about this. I thanked him and I was thankful for his friendship and that he shared this with me. And then I called the best attorney in New York City to discuss this. My biggest mistake when the incident first happened is that i did not get legal representation on day one when this first occurred. I didn't do anything wrong so I didn't think I needed an attorney. I now realize that was a critical mistake on my end. Always always always seek legal advice no matter what!!!! He must have had a top attorney. His job was on the line. And as a result he was protected and I was not.

The attorney I met with and hired is a rock star. She asked me what I wanted. I want him fired. I had completely changed my position on this. My mind was no longer playing tricks on me. He screwed up. He crossed the line. He committed the crime. He was still at my company showing up at conferences, seeing him at the office - it made me sick to my stomach. It felt so different because now it felt like he got away with it, didn't accept any responsibility in this and was even a bit arrogant. Too late I was told. They had already decided his fate and could not change it. Do you want to leave? Do you want money? Has your business suffered as a result of this? No, no and no. I like the people here ,I know everyone, I know how to navigate the firm. I am not leaving. And my business is doing great. And no. I don't want money. I just don't. Well then what do you want? I want them to never do this to another human being. It was the most traumatizing time of my life. I was stressed out every day. I was worried that they wouldn't believe me and I would be fired. It scared the hell out of me. I was terrified. I ended up with bronchitis. I threw my back out and had unbearable pain for months. I attribute this to the stress and the duress of the way I was treated by the woman in HR and the way this was handled.

The attorney was my saving grace. The attorney found 10 violations of case law in this investigation and prepared a letter to my firm. This attorney is one of the best in the country and they were appalled by the way this investigation by my firm was handled.

I was slow to respond when it was time to send the letter in. I was told that it may reopen a new investigation and cause me more duress. I was told my goal of procedural changes would never be known. I was told there was no real upside for me. After 9 months of stress I decided to end it and I chose not to send it. I wanted to stay at my firm because I have many great relationships and resources and the people are not the HR woman who failed me failed our firm and failed our community. Who said there are places in hell for women who don't help other women? I was thriving in my business and did not want to leave and did not want money. I only wanted the firm to change the way they handle these matters going forward. But there was no way we would know if they would make any changes and their would be no upside for me in delivering the letter. There was only more downside. Speaking up cost me. It cost me my health for a time - I came down with bronchitis during this investigation and three out my back for a year. It cost me my mental health for a while as I actually was in fear that maybe they would believe him and his lies as he tried to save his job and if they believed him and not me then I could lose my job and it cost me because I did not know that I would need my own legal representation.

I thought one day if I ever do leave my current firm I would deliver the letter as part of my exit interview. Or maybe write a book one day and share these events then. The book would be about more than this one incident - it would be about resiliency and finding my own definition of success. But...

Earlier this week news broke That Rowan Farrow has a new book coming out and it shares details about the rape that caused NBC to fire Matt Lauer. It brought back a flood of emotions and the events of that night. The sexual assault. The idea that something like this could happen to someone like me and at this point in my life. Really? I am grateful that NBC and the people that sat at the desk with Matt acknowledge his "appalling, horrific and reprehensible" behavior and confirm why they took immediate action against him as soon as they learned of this behavior. It gives me hope that we are not going to accept this type of behavior or action. I do not accept it and my heart goes out to the woman who has been forced into the limelight, with photographers chasing her down in front of her home, snapping pictures, freezing her image in time when she is scared and she is vulnerable and she feels violated. Again. She was brave to speak up and face someone so much bigger stronger and more powerful then her. I understand where she is coming from. How maybe her mind played tricks on her too. There is a huge cost to sharing such an assault - an assault on your body but even more an assault on your being - and being publicly identified as the victim.

On a positive note, many firms have changed the way they address these incidents now. I hope my firm has revisited the way they handle sexual assault and the way they treat the victim too. I hope it will be a better experience for the next person and they are treated with respect, support and kindness.

Fast forward to today. He is still working at my firm and every time I see him I get a visceral reaction and feel nauseous. I think if this event had happened six months later in the midst of the #metoo movement he would have been fired. I also "heard" that this same fellow had been fired years ago from another firm for sexually harassing a woman. But there is no public information available on this. This is the cost of keeping things quiet. An opportunity to repeat this behavior. Maybe worse next time.

I like to think my firm now knows they made the wrong decision and should have fired him.

I have chosen to not be a victim. I spoke up. It did cost me. But I would do it again. I have been determined to find ways to support women and to have a positive impact on others and make a difference at my firm. I share this article anonymously in order to protect myself. Because we need to put our oxygen mask on first and we need to heal and move past the damage caused by others. In my case - by him and by the woman who works in HR.