International Day of Women and Girls in Science: Creating Greater Equity in STEM Programs

This episode of Michigan Minds is part of a series produced by the University of Michigan Public Engagement and Impact Initiative and the Office of the Vice President for Research in celebration of International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

Erica Marsh, MD, is a professor at the University of Michigan Medical School, chief of the division of reproductive endocrinology and infertility, and founder and director of the onWHARD collaborative. She joined Michigan Minds for this special series to explain her work, detail the need for creating greater equity in STEM programs, and provide words of encouragement for those aspiring to work in STEM fields.

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“I’m a curious person by nature, and research is really about answering questions that we have,” Marsh says. “Given my focus on reproductive health in particular, it’s also a way to promote equity and justice. We often refer to things as being normative or baseline, and one has to ask: ‘What populations were those data collected from?’ ‘When were they collected?’ ‘Are they relevant to all of us?’

“A lot of the work that I do, I do to broaden our understanding of what normative data is across diverse populations that have historically been underrepresented in the collection of reproductive health data.”

The intellectual challenge of answering questions about human physiology was what originally appealed to her, Marsh explains, adding that the fascination with and her calling for the work has remained with her.

“Most of the work that I do involves recruiting from the community. I work hard to be very intentional about partnering with community organizations and community leaders to learn from them, to be educated by them, to partner with them, to understand the most appropriate and culturally sensitive ways to recruit in a community at large,” Marsh says.

She talks about a pipeline program she started to help increase interest in research and science careers among high schoolers, which is, she says, her proudest accomplishment.

“I’m proud of all the work that I do, but I think that project—being able to inspire young people who are from an inner city environment and who may not have had role models in medicine, in research, in science, and inspire them to aspire to those types of careers and to remind them that, yes, this is absolutely something that you can do. And not only can you do it, we need you to do it. We need your lens, your perspective, your questions to be brought to the field, to make sure that we are asking all the right questions, and that we are being incredibly inclusive.”

Marsh emphasizes the importance of diversity in all fields of work, including in STEM. Everyone has different lived experiences, and those experiences help create research that is relevant to more individuals. When individuals are left out of opportunities, potential for growth in the field is lost, she says.

“In order to fully realize all of science, all of technology, all of engineering, all of mathematics, we need to leverage all the brains that we can, and that includes the brains and minds and potential and insights of men and women,” says Marsh.

“I think it’s really important in STEM also to not only consider the gender inequities, but consider the racial inequities that we see, and to consider the geographical inequities. All of those things intersect to help shape who we are and to shape our opportunities in some ways.

“It’s really important for us on this very special day that’s focused on women to really take the opportunity to also say, ‘Hey, we need to do better in the space of gender, but we also need to do better in these other determinants of success.’ So as we celebrate women in research and women in science, let us also reflect on all the other ways that we need to lift each other up and make sure we’re giving everybody an opportunity to thrive in these incredibly important spaces that drive so much of our lives and so much of our health.”


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