Dr. Gretchen Goldman is the research director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. She holds a PhD and MS in environmental engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology and a BS in atmospheric science from Cornell University. She is also a mother of two young boys. On this year’s Women’s History Month, we would like to thank Gretchen for sharing about her experiences as both a mother and a leader in STEM. This is a 2-part post, for part 2 see this link.
Tell me a bit about what it’s like to be a leader in STEM and also a mother.
I feel this responsibility to be visible as a mom in STEM because there are so many forces that either downgrade moms in STEM or make it a less friendly environment for them. Given that I’m in a place of relative comfort and stability in STEM, I have the ability to showcase it in ways that others may not. So I’ve tried to do that in a few instances to help create a friendlier environment for the people behind me that decide to have children. We need to work toward everyone feeling like STEM fields are places that they can belong.
What’s one story that captures your experiences as a mom in STEM?
When I was on maternity leave, there was a big hearing at the EPA (pre-COVID) and I wanted to go. It’s something I would have done if I was at work and I decided well, why don’t I do it anyway and bring my infant? So I brought my one-month-old in a baby carrier and gave a public comment with him strapped to me. I got amazingly positive feedback. It did pretty well on Twitter, March for Science posted it, and I had hundreds of people thanking me for showing up. It was a cool moment where I was able to show up as both a mom and a scientist. I hope it sent the message that it is okay to both be a parent and do your job. Those things don’t need to be entirely separate.
What surprised you about this connection between being a mom and a leader in STEM?
One thing that surprised me is that once you open the door of conversation on parenthood, people feel more comfortable sharing as well. At times when I’ve been vocal about having kids, the professional contact I’m talking to will say something like “my kids also do that!” and it creates this opportunity for connecting with people in a different way. In work settings, we don’t otherwise get access to this kind of connection unless it’s already an environment where people feel like they can share aspects of their personal lives. I found that if I break down that wall, it leads to more connection. It’s just another example of why people should be able to bring their whole selves to work.
From your perspective what can we do better as a field to support moms?
We should normalize the existence of children and not disparage children in the presence of other people. It may seem obvious, but I haven’t always been afforded this courtesy in D.C. Professional environments, especially in D.C and in STEM fields, are not always friendly to the idea of parenthood. We need to make it more visible and a more welcoming space for parents and caregivers. There needs to be reasonable accommodations as well, like having lactation rooms available and schedule flexibility. There is this perception that accommodations and flexibility cuts into productivity a lot but that simply isn’t the case. Women should be given the opportunity to thrive both as moms and scientists.
Tatiana Eaves is an ecologist that works as a policy analyst and a science writer and communicator. You can follow her on Twitter at @ecologistsays and her website is EcologistSays.com.