New Community Group Aims to Connect and Uplift Women in STEM

Women’s Equality Day is celebrated on August 26 in the United States to commemorate the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment, which prohibits denial of the right to vote based on gender. Today, more than 100 years later, there is still significant progress to be made towards women’s equality. This is particularly true in STEM fields. Only 28% of the STEM workforce is comprised of women. A newly formed group of Danforth Center scientists, International Women in Science (IWIS), hopes to do their part to change that. 

IWIS aims to connect and support women currently working in science and to encourage young, future scientists to pursue the career they want regardless of gender. “Growing up, I did not have a BIWOC role model in STEM, agriculture, or economics with whom I could identify,” says Laboratory Technician Amy Pfeifer, a founding member of IWIS. “One of the goals of IWIS is to implement a mutual mentorship program to connect IWIS members with potential mentors who can provide guidance and support as they progress in their careers.”

The mentorship program is just one form of support that IWIS hopes to offer. They also plan to host workshops and seminars on career and leadership advancement, increase the visibility of women in science through public outreach, advocate for policies that promote inclusivity and gender equity in the workplace, celebrate cultural diversity within the group, and facilitate networking opportunities.

IWIS is already off to a great start. At their inaugural meeting in May 2023, IWIS welcomed a full house of 22 Danforth Center scientists. “In that first meeting, it was important to take the time to hear other people’s input and reasons for wanting a women’s group at the Center and reflecting on what we collectively need at work,” Pfeifer said.

An impressive list of accomplishments has already grown out of that initial conversation. Director of Phenotyping Katie Murphy, PhD, has initiated weekly women’s walks as an opportunity to regularly connect with other women at the Center. Several IWIS members are involved in the St. Louis chapter of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS), which provides opportunities to engage with a broader network of women in science. And, despite a very tight turnaround, IWIS was able to pull together a booth at PlantTech Jam for aspiring young scientists; the booth featured interactive activities and inspiring illustrations by artist Rachel Ignotofsky highlighting the contributions of 15 women in STEM. 

“As co-lead of IWIS alongside Senior Research Scientist & Principal Investigator Patricia Baldrich, PhD, I am inspired by the dedication and enthusiasm of our founding members like Amy,” said Senior Research Scientist & Principal Investigator Nadia Shakoor, PhD. “Our mission is clear: to foster a supportive environment in which women in plant science and STEM at the Danforth Center can flourish, connect, and lead. Our approach includes mentorship, workshops, events, and outreach. It's an honor to be part of this initiative, and I'm optimistic about the positive impact we're cultivating at the Danforth Center.”

Going forward, there are more exciting things to come. IWIS plans to bring back the St. Louis Women on the Rise luncheon this fall under the guidance of Member & Principal Investigator Toni Kutchan, PhD. IWIS also plans to release their official charter in the coming months. A Center-wide celebration will be held in conjunction with the charter’s release, marking an important milestone as IWIS becomes the Danforth Center’s first official community resource group.