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 1 see link
What excites you?
There are many initiatives now to help those underserved in STEM fields. This includes parents and also when it comes to people of different backgrounds, races, and gender identities. We are seeing a big shift now, where the scientific community at large is working to be more cognizant of those issues and better ensure that STEM fields are inclusive to the greatest extent possible. I’m really excited about that general awakening. There is still a lot of work to do and there are going to be missteps, but there is increased awareness and efforts. I’m hoping that one silver lining of COVID-19 will be more awareness of these challenges that hold people back from thriving in STEM fields because things were not accessible, accommodating, and welcoming for everyone.
How did COVID complicate the existing challenges of parenting while working in STEM?
In September I had this viral tweet where I showed my ‘behind the scenes’. I was on CNN’s The Situation Room from my house as I’m working from home. I shared on Twitter a side-by-side of the CNN view and room where I was sitting, which was filled with toys and with a chair on the table, you know, not an optimal work setting. It went viral and I got media requests from around the world, everything from The Hindustan Times and Glamour to Good Morning America and NPR. I learned that sharing the struggle that many are facing now, working from home with kids and continuing to do their job, really resonated with people. People seemed to identify with my willingness to be vulnerable with that. I was glad to be able to lift up that challenge, especially because at the beginning of the pandemic, there were fewer conversations around the struggle of parents. It was understandable of course that the primary focus should be bigger threats to public health and safety presented by COVID-19, but it felt like the struggles of parents were completely ignored. I was glad to be able to highlight some of those struggles in the media.
What are the opportunities for the future?
We must work to ensure that everyone has the ability to succeed in STEM. I’m excited for the opportunity to advance a lot of that work. I lead the SciMom’s journey team for 500 Women Scientists and we’ve done a lot of advocacy around supporting moms in STEM fields during COVID-19 and beyond. The struggles of moms working from home while homeschooling/doing childcare affects all parents but the burden has disproportionately fallen to women. We’ve already seen more women –especially women of color– drop out of the workforce during the pandemic. This is a big, urgent problem that is going to erase the gains we’ve made in recent years on racial and gender diversity in STEM fields. But I’m hopeful that more people are paying attention and we now have the chance to make monumental changes.