In recent years, we've seen a rise in women in the workforce and, more specifically, in industries that have, until the last decade, been predominantly saturated by men. It's important that women continue to break out into the workforce and male-dominated fields to keep the momentum going and ensure workplace equality, including decreasing the pay gap and workplace harassment. Keeping women at the forefront of the workforce not only ensures women continue to have a voice on important issues, but that they're well represented among their peers. For women who are looking to be part of the women's workforce movement, women thinking of starting a career may want to consider breaking into the STEM field. Here are some reasons why women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) is vital for future success.
Women as Family Providers
For hundreds of years, men have been seen as the sole providers for their family. This type of thinking has kept women in the background with the expectation that they should serve as the family caretakers, rearing children and tending to the household. However, as we see a rise in single-parent households, it has become necessary for women to break out of these traditional roles and enter the workforce to provide for their children. When women secure careers in the STEM field, they'll be better equipped to provide for their family, as STEM fields have a tendency to pay better than jobs that don't require a specialized skill. In fact, STEM fields are less likely to have the wage disparity that is often common for women in the workforce, which means they'll be able to provide a comfortable living for their family.
Women Bring Diversity
Women in STEM, particularly minority women, offer diversity to the workforce which can also bring a refreshing new perspective to the table. Having a varied perspective on issues, particularly ones that pertain to women such as women's health, can ensure that the right solutions are being offered on a wider scale, which can be beneficial for the population as a whole. In addition, having a diverse workforce ensures that women have a better chance of advancement to more senior-level or board room positions, which typically have been dominated by males throughout the years.
Women offer a brighter future for our children
Female children often look to their older counterparts as role models, and when older women are seen in professional roles it may give them hope that they too can be a successful woman when they grow older. It's important that future generations understand that there are no limits to what they can accomplish and that they aren't limited to a particular industry based on their gender. Concurrently, it's also vital that young males see women in positions equal to men so that they grow up viewing women as peers no matter what industry the work in. Because such a large number of children are raised by single mothers, having a strong woman role model who's seen as someone who can provide for their family breaks down gender inequality barriers and keeps women's rights in stride with men's.
How to Secure a Career in STEM
As with finding most professional careers, securing a career in the STEM field typically begins with receiving a college education. Education should be valued regardless of which career direction you choose, but if you're particularly interested in working in one of the fields defined by STEM, you'll want to start by looking at the different programs available at the university of your choice. Your first step will likely be the discovery phase, where you talk with someone or take an aptitude test to determine your strengths, weaknesses, and interests. From there, you should be able to narrow down your choices to a particular field of interested before moving on to the exploration phase, where you'll dig deeper into a few different options to determine the best fit. From there, you'll apply for different programs best suited to your abilities and interests and wait to be admitted to a program.
These are just a few of the benefits of working in the field of science, technology, engineering, or math. STEM fields are a lucrative way for women to provide for their families while advancing their career.
It Doesn't End with Education
It's important to note that securing a career in a STEM field doesn't begin and end with an education. You can also gain valuable knowledge and experience by completing internships in your field. These will teach you more about your field while getting your foot in the door with a potential employer should a position open up after you graduate college.
With so many groundbreaking medical advances being revealed to the world every single day, you would imagine there would be some advancement on the plethora of many female-prevalent diseases (think female cancers, Alzheimer's, depression, heart conditions etc.) that women are fighting every single day.
For Anna Villarreal and her team, there frankly wasn't enough being done. In turn, she developed a method that diagnoses these diseases earlier than traditional methods, using a pretty untraditional method in itself: through your menstrual blood.
Getting from point A to point B wasn't so easy though. Villarreal was battling a disease herself and through that experience. “I wondered if there was a way to test menstrual blood for female specific diseases," she says. "Perhaps my situation could have been prevented or at least better managed. This led me to begin researching menstrual blood as a diagnostic source. For reasons the scientific and medical community do not fully understand, certain diseases impact women differently than men. The research shows that clinical trials have a disproportionate focus on male research subjects despite clear evidence that many diseases impact more women than men."
There's also no denying that gap in women's healthcare in clinical research involving female subjects - which is exactly what inspired Villarreal to launch her company, LifeStory Health. She says that, “with my personal experience everything was brought full circle."
“There is a challenge and a need in the medical community for more sex-specific research. I believe the omission of females as research subjects is putting women's health at risk and we need to fuel a conversation that will improve women's healthcare.,"
Her brand new biotech company is committed to changing the women's healthcare market through technology, innovation and vocalization and through extensive research and testing. She is working to develop the first ever, non-invasive, menstrual blood diagnostic and has partnered with a top Boston-area University on research and has won awards from The International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Northeastern University's RISE.
How does it work exactly? Proteins are discovered in menstrual blood that can quickly and easily detect, manage and track diseases in women, resulting in diseases that can be earlier detected, treated and even prevented in the first place. The menstrual blood is easy to collect and since it's a relatively unexplored diagnostic it's honestly a really revolutionary concept, too.
So far, the reactions of this innovative research has been nothing but excitement. “The reactions have been incredibly positive." she shares with SWAAY. “Currently, menstrual blood is discarded as bio waste, but it could carry the potential for new breakthroughs in diagnosis. When I educate women on the lack of female subjects used in research and clinical trials, they are surprised and very excited at the prospect that LifeStory Health may provide a solution and the key to early detection."
To give a doctor's input, and a little bit more of an explanation as to why this really works, Dr. Pat Salber, MD, and Founder of The Doctor Weighs In comments: “researchers have been studying stem cells derived from menstrual blood for more than a decade. Stem cells are cells that have the capability of differentiating into different types of tissues. There are two major types of stem cells, embryonic and adult. Adult stem cells have a more limited differentiation potential, but avoid the ethical issues that have surrounded research with embryonic stem cells. Stem cells from menstrual blood are adult stem cells."
These stem cells are so important when it comes to new findings. “Stem cells serve as the backbone of research in the field of regenerative medicine – the focus which is to grow tissues, such as skin, to repair burn and other types of serious skin wounds.
A certain type of stem cell, known as mesenchymal stem cells (MenSCs) derived from menstrual blood has been found to both grow well in the lab and have the capability to differentiate in various cell types, including skin. In addition to being used to grow tissues, their properties can be studied that will elucidate many different aspects of cell function," Dr. Salber explains.
To show the outpour of support for her efforts and this major girl power research, Villarreal remarks, “women are volunteering their samples happily report the arrival of their periods by giving samples to our lab announcing “de-identified sample number XXX arrived today!" It's a far cry from the stereotype of when “it's that time of the month."
How are these collections being done? “Although it might sound odd to collect menstrual blood, plastic cups have been developed to use in the collection process. This is similar to menstrual products, called menstrual cups, that have been on the market for many years," Dr. Salber says.
Equally shocking and innovative, this might be something that becomes more common practice in the future. And according to Dr. Salber, women may be able to not only use the menstrual blood for early detection, but be able to store the stem cells from it to help treat future diseases. “Companies are working to commercialize the use of menstrual blood stem cells. One company, for example, is offering a patented service to store menstrual blood stem cells for use in tissue generation if the need arises."