It’s time to put money behind promises of advancing women

February 3, 2021
by Lori Lennon

Photo of a black woman laughing and smiling against a bright yellow background. Image Credit: Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash.

Within the next decade, we are going to see one of the largest wealth transfers in human history—up to $68 trillion is expected to be handed to the next generation of philanthropists over the next 25 years, many benefactors of this wealth will be women.

I’ve dedicated my career to elevating women in science. I see it as the only way our society can move forward and advance research; however, this mission is not shared by everyone, and that may not come as a surprise to many of you. So, if you are still questioning or are not sure of why it’s fundamentally important to have women at the table for scientific discoveries, how about we talk about where this lack of investment might hurt most—financially. Has the fire been lit under you yet? Let me explain.

Wealth transfer aside, women already control more than half of our nation’s private wealth. In fact, a recent study published in the same report showed women give more often and when they do, they give more. On top of that, according to a recent report, women already control the wealth in 90 percent of affluent households and are expected to control two-thirds of all the wealth in the U.S. by 2030. It will also come as no surprise that women also tend to give to groups supporting their own gender.

Add trillions of dollars on top of this female philanthropic windfall and you have some very big reasons to finally invest in women and appoint them in positions they’ve deserved, but have been kept out of reach through the deep-seated patriarchy of many scientific institutions—leadership.

Philanthropists are always looking for organizations to give to, and they are going to want to give to institutions, and organizations that value and support women in leadership and throughout their companies.

The good news is, these women already exist, and always have. They are brilliant, strong, engaging leaders who already serve within the ranks of many organizations, and supporting them can be done in many ways. Here’s how to get started:

  1. Put women in leadership roles. A recent report of the biotech industry highlighted the work we have to do to achieve gender and racial parity in leadership positions. Women make up nearly 45% of employees, but only 30% of executive teams and an abysmal 18% on biotech company boards. These numbers drop even further when looking at people of color: 15% and 14% respectively. “Highest Paid Executives are generally people with the most power, and having females and people of color in these roles signals to employees, customers, and investors that the company is interested in diverse perspectives,” the report states.
  2. Create platforms where women’s voices can be heard. I have spoken to many women throughout the scientific community and their experiences, compared with the perspective leadership, directly conflict with each other. Leadership will often say there are many opportunities to “step up,” but women aren’t volunteering themselves. The real question these companies should be asking is, “What is it within our organization and its structure that prevents or deters women from taking on leadership roles?” Looking at elevating women from this perspective will provide a different (and critical) viewpoint to companies who are curious, or should be curious, about why women aren’t being tapped for leadership positions.
  3. Men need to help. Yes, women cannot do this alone, especially given the fact that many executive positions within an organization are held by men. This needs to be done with self-awareness and empathy. Here’s what I mean, women are asked to do at least double to work and be flawless in their execution. Women are serving on committees, volunteering, and sometimes going through the stressful exercise of the tenure process during child-rearing years (if they are choosing to have children). Generally speaking, women are still the primary caretakers at home. More men need to understand the nuances of being a woman in science, and that requires asking questions and seeking out ways to support women doing the work. Some people, even women, will refute this statement, claiming that women in science should not be treated differently. Yes, I agree, but here’s the thing. Men are different from women. Not better, different. This means companies and organizations need to stop jamming women into the male molds society has constructed to measure success, power, and advancement. Different types of “molds” can net the same success, as long as you consider the person rather than defaulting to the “it’s always been done this way” approach. With this frame of mind, women can stop attending countless training sessions meant to help advance themselves in a male-dominated world, and spend more time doing the work they’ve dedicated their careers to.

I see the value and understand that diverse voices can advance discovery in ways never imagined (it would also be nice to have women’s voices and research to address the many health issues that plague women and have gone unfunded or underfunded for years).

With the Great Wealth Transfer on the horizon, it’s time for you to look around at your organization and have an honest conversation about where you have let women fall through the cracks.