Reach Back To Go Forwards: Supporting Women And Girls In Science



The United Nations declared February 11th, 2017 to be the International Day of Girls and Women in Science.

It’s possible to think that such a designation would be superfluous in this day and age. Many groups have been talking about the need for equality in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (“STEM”) for decades. By now, it would be easy to assume, these areas should have an equal playing field.

Unfortunately not. We’re not even very close:

  • A recent report from UNESCO noted that women make up only about 28 percent of researchers worldwide, with the gap widening as the job increases in seniority. It also stated that women could typically gain access to less funding and fewer networks in their fields, which further increases the overall disadvantage.
  • The UN Women and Girls Day website reported that, in looking at data from 14 different countries, female students graduate with a Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree and Doctor’s degree in science-related fields at only 18%, 8%, and 2% respectively. Compare that with 37%, 18%, and 6% respectively for male students.

The United States is not an exception to the international rule. We can take a closer look at how our country measures up to make STEM fields accessible and welcoming to girls and women:

  • In the U.S. women are at about 47 percent of the overall workforce. That percentage does not, however, translate into STEM fields. For example, women make up about 39% of chemists/material scientists, 16% of chemical engineers and 12% of civil engineers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2015). And the number of women in computer science careers has, unfortunately, dropped over the past two decades, from 35% in 1990 to 26% in 2013.
  • The NY Times reported that women make up about 14% of physics professors in the U.S. For minority women, the statistics are even lower. Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein wrote that in 2015 there were only 78 black American women with PhDs in physics.

There are many obstacles to women succeeding in science and related fields: antiquated preparation testing, unwittingly biased teachers, blatant discrimination, underfunding of certain fields, sexual harassment and assault, unwritten “boys club” rules. The list goes on. And for women of color, particularly, the fight is even more difficult.

Yet, many women (and girls) can and do prevail. Not only do they survive the gauntlet of obstacles, they thrive in the face of them. Look at Katherine Johnson, Rosalind Franklin, Ada Lovelace, Vera Rubin, Chien-Shiung Wu, and Mae Jemison. Though this list, too, is long and robust, there remains a persistent worry about who is being left behind.

Pictured top left-right, bottom left-right: Rosalind Franklin, Mae Jemison, Katherine Johnson, Vera Rubin. Illustrations by Kristin DiVona.

Pictured top left-right, bottom left-right: Rosalind Franklin, Mae Jemison, Katherine Johnson, Vera Rubin. Illustrations by Kristin DiVona.

What helps make us optimistic in today’s environment is the groundswell of energy and drive to push back against such biases and roadblocks in STEM fields. Projects aiming to make a difference range from Million Women MentorsGirls Who CodeBlack Girls Code, and Girl Scouts, to international programs such as Let Girls Learn. The advent of social media has given women and girls a way to connect with one another in ways that were impossible just a decade ago (though admittedly, it has also helped unleash new levels of online abuse for women and girls).

While it is still often exhausting and disillusioning to be a minority or, even more difficult, the “only” or the “first” in a particular program, laboratory or observatory, there are growing networks to help women and girls find a local program to participate in or volunteer with, to reach out to others to share experiences or to find allies in person or online.

So please join us in celebrating next February 11th as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Whether that celebrating is the simple retweeting of an article to raise awareness, helping a girl you know join a mentorship program, or volunteering for an educational organization. As The Lady Project reminds us, we need to reach back to go forwards. We need it now more than ever.

Kimberly Arcand and Megan Watzke

12 Black Writers and Poets You Must Read This Year

It doesn’t make sense that Black History Month is squished into the shortest month of the year. In a world where our history is, too often, one-dimensional, Black History Month is crucial to the health of our society. It brings to light the movements and achievements of incredible people without whom our world would lack so much of its beauty, its nuance, and its brilliance. 

One month simply isn’t enough time to listen to all the voices, past and present, that we need to hear. 

Today, I’d like to share 12 black contemporary writers—one for each month of the year. That’s intentional. These are people with vast collections of poetry and prose that will fill 30 days and then some. It’s just a start, but it’s my hope that their work will spark a passion that lasts for your entire lifetime. 

I won’t waste too much of your time explaining. I’ll let their words do the talking.

1. Warsan Shire

“later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered

Excerpt from “What They Did Yesterday Afternoon

2. Erica Dawson

“I saw
a gullet so voracious it could fit
a demonym and all the gist of where
a woman lost too much of her to bare.”

Excerpt from “Fallacious

3. Roxane Gay

“Pink is my favorite color. I used to say my favorite color was black to be cool, but it is pink—all shades of pink. If I have an accessory, it is probably pink. I read Vogue, and I’m not doing it ironically though it might seem that way. I once live-tweeted the September issue. I demonstrate little outward evidence of this, but I have a very indulgent fantasy where I have a closet full of pretty shoes and purses and matching outfits. I love dresses. For years I pretended I hated them, but I don’t. Maxi-dresses are one of the finest clothing items to become popular in recent memory. I have opinions on Maxi-dresses! I shave my legs! Again, this mortifies me.”

Excerpt from “Bad Feminist

4. Marlon James

“But in another city, another valley, another ghetto, another slum, another favela, another township, another intifada, another war, another birth, somebody is singing Redemption Song, as if the Singer wrote it for no other reason but for this sufferah to sing, shout, whisper, weep, bawl, and scream right here, right now.” 

Excerpt from A Brief History of Seven Killings

5. Zadie Smith

“If religion is the opiate of the people, tradition is an even more sinister analgesic, simply because it rarely appears sinister. If religion is a tight band, a throbbing vein, and a needle, tradition is a far homelier concoction: poppy seeds ground into tea; a sweet cocoa drink laced with cocaine; the kind of thing your grandmother might have made.” 

Excerpt from White Teeth

6. Toni Morrison

“There is a loneliness that can be rocked. Arms crossed, knees drawn up, holding, holding on, this motion, unlike a ship's, smooths and contains the rocker. It's an inside kind--wrapped tight like skin. Then there is the loneliness that roams. No rocking can hold it down. It is alive. On its own. A dry and spreading thing that makes the sound of one's own feet going seem to come from a far-off place.”

Excerpt from Beloved

7. Rita Dove

“The windows you have closed behind
you are turning pink, doing what they do
every dawn. Here it's gray. The door
to the taxicab waits. This suitcase, 
the saddest object in the world.”

Excerpt from “Exit

8. Claudia Rankine

“White is living its brick-and-mortar loss, 
staving off more loss, exhaustion, aggrieved
exposure, a pale heart even as in daylight
white hardens its features. Eyes, which hold all
the light, harden. Jaws, which close down on nothing, 
harden. Hands, which assembled, and packaged, 
and built, harden into a fury that cannot call...”

Excerpt from “Sound & Fury

9. Thomas Sayers Ellis

“The strings attached
   To our thangs were
     Reeled into The Deep
       And rhythmic as fins,
     Schools of P signs
       Flapped and waved
     Like flags.
       One nation
     Under a groove.
       No one held their breath
 In the flashlit depth.”

Excerpt from “A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop

10. Saeed Jones

“Take your hand out
from under my pillow, please.
And take your sheets too.
Drag them under. Make pretend ghosts.”

Excerpt from “Sleeping Arrangement

11. Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib

“I say moist / and do not first think about two naked bodies / the sound their skin might make / when they awkwardly press into each other / underneath a hungry sun / in an apartment with a broken air conditioner / I say moist / and first think of / the eager and swallowing mud…”

Excerpt from “In Defense of ‘Moist

12. Tracy K. Smith

“For kicks, we'll dance for ourselves
    Before mirrors studded with golden bulbs.

    The oldest among us will recognize that glow—
    But the word sun will have been re-assigned

    To the Standard Uranium-Neutralizing device
    Found in households and nursing homes.

   And yes, we'll live to be much older, thanks
To popular consensus. Weightless, unhinged…”

Excerpt from “Sci-Fi

Our Nation’s Persistent Struggle To Be Just

This year’s theme for World Day of Social Justice is “preventing conflict and sustaining peace through decent work.” This idea that channeling compassion and disdain for injustice into meaningful and sustainable work is one that resonates strongly with me as a graduate of a Jesuit institution.  Being a “woman for others” was a core element of what it meant to be a Boston College student. I continue to carry that mindset with me and wholeheartedly believe that our vocation should in some way contribute to making the world much better for those who are most affected by systems of oppression.

Yet, even in the most powerful country in the world, justice for all continues to be aspirational. The prevention of conflict becomes ever more difficult to sustain.

We continue to dehumanize black lives. Slavery. Jim Crow. Mass incarceration. Disproportionate police brutality. And we have the nerve to respond to the evolving oppression of our black brothers and sisters with “All lives matter.” Is that social justice?

We encourage the implementation of policy that literally calls for the banning and rounding up of human beings. But when we hear dissent we respond by calling people terrorists and spelling out the word LEGAL in capital letters as if that somehow justifies mass deportation of children who’ve only ever known the U.S. as home. Is that social justice?

We displace our native sisters and brothers from their land for profit and when they peacefully protest, we militarize and intimidate. Is that social justice?

We ridicule our brothers and sisters for loving who they love and expect our educators in same-sex relationships to hide their true identity to protect our religious upbringing.

That is not justice.

So on World Day of Social Justice, let’s take a moment to reflect on the injustices happening across the world, but also right here at home. If you’re feeling rage and frustration about the state of our world, link up with an organization that is working to affect change for the communities you care about. Let compassion and bold action be your guide.

There is always more work to be done. You ready?

Stephanie Gonzalez was born and raised in Central Falls, attended Boston College as an undergrad, but inspired by the changes in her hometown, she returned home in hopes of playing a role in the City's transformation. Seeing education as one of the most important needs in the community, Stephanie was appointed to the Central Falls School Board of Trustees in 2011 and is currently the Associate Director of Partnerships at Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy.  Stephanie sits on numerous boards and commissions across the state including Girls on the Run Rhode Islandy, RI Commission on Women, Sophia Academy, and Central Falls City Council. 

Black History Month // Mary Mcleod Bethune

Mary Jane McLeod Bethune was an American educator, stateswoman, philanthropist, humanitarian and civil rights activist best known for starting a private school for African-American students in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Learn more about Mary McLeod Bethune and her journey as the "First Lady Of Struggle" here and plan a visit to her Council House in Washington DC.

An Open Letter to the Women Who Helped Me Find Myself

Hey, Lady, 

It’s February. You can almost tell without looking at a calendar. Without missing a beat, the muted gray-blue skies of January are punctured with the pinks and reds that flood out the front doors of every CVS, Rite-Aid, and Stop and Shop. Without fail, each of the advertisements I pass on the sidewalk on my way to work has been taken over by a local jeweler advertising the shiniest diamond necklaces and rings, and each TV spot features some woman opening a square box by candlelight and gasping like it told her some crass office gossip. 

If you can’t tell, I don’t love it—and I know I’m not alone. Valentine’s Day, though well-intentioned, has a history of growing overblown. But not long ago, I hated the holiday. Not I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, and not I just don’t like the material aspects of the holiday, but real hate. 

I hated a lot of things back then. Or, at least, I thought I did; in actuality, I was deeply confused. For years—starting in middle school, winding up through college, and even into my grad school days—I was uncomfortable. I didn’t know how to operate in my own skin. Some combination of depression and depersonalization—coupled with questions about my beliefs, my religion, my brain, my sexuality, my energy, my enthusiasm, my friends (or, sometimes, my lack of friends), my sense of humor, my body, my, well, everything—had left me somewhere dark. I didn’t feel accepted, and I didn’t accept myself. I felt somehow broken, like I had been two different people, one controlling the other like an avatar in an MMORPG, but now the batteries were dying and all my movements were lagging. I was lost. 

Along the way, though, I found you. 

I found you in a lot of different people: friends, acquaintances, poets I stumbled upon online, characters in novels, mothers, grandmothers, aunts. And for a long time, I didn’t know what I had found. Sometimes you were someone who had been where I was. Other times, you’d been somewhere worse. Regardless, you didn’t think twice about the scars on my body, my physical misgivings, my confusion, my bad taste in fashion. You laughed with me at the goofiest jokes. You asked for my opinion, and would willingly give me yours as well. You didn’t hide your brilliance; instead, you shared it with me, all the while respecting my insights and convincing me I had something to add to almost any conversation. You danced with me, even when there was no music playing. When I cried, you didn’t shy away from my sadness. You helped me learn that so much of what I was doing was holding myself to unfair (or nonexistent, in some cases) standards of what a person should look like, or do, or be. You taught me that I was valid. I mattered. And I knew you mattered, too. 

Most importantly, my friend, my confidant, when I told you that I loved you as my own sister, or aunt, or mother, or whomever, you smiled. You reciprocated. You didn’t scorn me for loving too much, or too eagerly. My heart had found a home in yours. I cannot thank you enough for that.

Like many of my friends and loved ones, I’m still very confused in some ways. But the picture is much less dire than it was a few years back. Today, I am comfortable with the fact that I’m not perfect. I’m still growing, and I hope to continue to grow for a lifetime. But I owe so much of that comfort in the face of ambiguity to you—the ladies in my life who reached out to me. Today, I’m surrounded by so much love that it makes me dizzy in the best way. When I think about how far I’ve come in such a short time, when I look back at my life and where I’ve been, I get vertigo—like life is a skyscraper and I’m standing on top, looking down on the city as the sun rises. 

To the women who helped me find myself, I just wanted to take this season of love—manufactured or otherwise—to say another thank you. Another I love you. Tomorrow, when I wake up and I’m getting ready for work, I’ll look in the mirror and I’ll take comfort in the fact that, thanks to you, I know myself. And I’m so excited to see where our journey together brings us next.

All my love,

Black History Month // Ursula Burns

Ursula M. Burns serves as Chairman of Xerox and was the CEO of the company from July 2009 to December 2016. As such, she was the first black-American woman CEO to head a Fortune 500 company.

You can see Ursula Burns Forbes 100 Most Powerful Woman profile here and watch an interview with her here.

Tips For Long Distance Friendships

Friendships that withstand the test of time often have to withstand the test of distance. Just like a long distance relationship with a partner, long distance friendships require effort and care to thrive and remain nourishing. Having transplanted to several different cities in my lifetime, I have friends all across the country and even some international pals. Making time to reach out to your friends can often fall by the wayside, but here are few ways to show your long distance pals that you care and are there for them, even when you can't be physically there!

1. Schedule a weekly or monthly phone date

Break out your schedules and find a time that works for both of you, no matter the time zone, to talk regularly via skype, phone, or text. Even if you have to occasionally move or break the date, you'll have a weekly or monthly reminder to catch up with your friend.

2. Use apps like Instagram or Line to hold Group Chats

Including a group of friends that have all scattered to different areas in one group chat can help rekindle that feeling of the group hangouts you miss. Just remember to turn on your notifications!

3. Write Letters

It may take a little more time and effort, but our pals are worth it. The feeling of sending and receiving letters and postcards is unmatched in this day and age. It really shows someone how much you care. It is also a great excuse to use the stickers and stationary you may have hoarded over the years.

4. Send Gifts

There are a lot of services around that make it very easy to treat your friends to a little something if you have room in your budget. Trials of monthly subscription boxes are a fun way to try new things with your friends and there are a variety of options out there. A gift card along with a handwritten letter could also be a fun surprise for a friend.

Moving cities doesn't have to mean the end of a friendship. You can bridge the gap at any time by reaching out to say that your friend is on your mind. Usually you will find that you're on their mind too! Putting a little effort into the relationship can go a long distance.

Bethany Caliaro is a recent Johnson & Wales University Graduate working in the Providence restaurant scene. She loves connecting with the Providence community through her work with The Lady Project and her Instagram. In her spare time, she tries to grow plants and eats out with her friends.

Black History Month // Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman was the first black woman to earn a pilot’s license. Because flying schools in the United States denied her entry, she taught herself French and moved to France, earning her license from France’s well-known Caudron Brother’s School of Aviation in just seven months. Coleman specialized in stunt flying and parachuting, earning a living barnstorming and performing aerial tricks. She remains a pioneer of women in the field of aviation.

You can learn even more about Bessie Coleman and her history here or in this video

Treat Yo Self: Body Positivity

“It is important to make someone happy. Start with yourself.”

So it’s February. The month most associated with love. And who doesn’t love, love? It’s arguably the most powerful human emotion, the one thing that makes us better. And there are all kinds of love: romantic love, friend love, partner love, unrequited love, and parent-child love.

And then there’s the love that I struggle with the most: self-love.

Being kind to myself has never come easy; in fact, I’m my own worst critic. As someone who has always struggled with my weight, I’ve spent many years disliking my body. One of the saddest memories I have as a child was going to the doctor and being told I needed to go on a diet. My thoughts from there on out were always centered on fixing my “bad, wrong, fat, ugly, etc.” body. And this negativity followed me well into adulthood. Even when I think back to the one time in my life that I was “thin”, I only remember it not being enough. I still didn’t like my body and had replaced the anger of being fat with the fear of getting fat again.  

Recently, I heard about the body positivity movement and was really excited to see so many amazing women embracing themselves just as they are in the body they have. I always felt like my life would be better once I hit a certain number on the scale, but reading about all the wonderful things these body positive women were accomplishing made me start to think about what I was really doing: selling myself short. There is no magic number on a scale that’s going to determine my value or worth. And I’m wasting time I could be happy worrying about something that really doesn’t matter.  

While it's important to remember that everyone's interpretation of body positivity is unique, at its core the term represents this wild idea that all bodies are good bodies. All bodies are worthy of self-love, self-care, and acceptance. All bodies are allowed to feel beautiful, regardless of their color or jean size or health status.

Here are some tips that helped me become more body positive:

1.    Work out because you love your body, not because you hate it. And ditto on eating healthy; fuel your body with nutritious food. Focus on your overall health, not your weight.
2.    Your actions define your success, not the number on the scale (or the dress size).  
3.    Confidence is beautiful on everyone.
4.    Focus on things that make you happy.  Happiness is often achieved by what we’re involved in, not what we look like.  
5.    Say something you like about yourself out loud every morning in the mirror.
6.    Compliment someone else.  
7.    Invest in good quality.  This means food, shoes, clothes, and relationships.
8.    Laugh.  A smile boosts your mood and everyone around you.
9.    Get perspective.  All I had to do was go on Instagram to see all the amazing women with bodies similar to mine.  And of course they looked fab.
10.     Focus on your attitude and how you feel.  A positive attitude can be the first step in a loving relationship with yourself.  

February is body positive month! I’d like to challenge every lady to be their own valentine, to celebrate all they have to offer, and to look themselves in the mirror and say I love you, all of you, in any state that you are, forever.  

Use the hashtag, #bodposfeb and let us know 3 things that you love about yourself! 

Katie is a social media and blogging guru for a local software engineering company. She's passionate about the user experience and loves to write. She also has two awesome cats. 

Photo from Death To The Stock Photo

How to Make New Friends After Moving (and Keep Your Old Ones)

I’m happily married to one of my best friends and we have a beautiful son together. However, that’s just one part of my life. I’m the type of woman that thrives on a healthy home life and strong, meaningful female friendships. I need both in order to feel balance in my life. I’ve moved so much in my early adulthood that I have girlfriends all over the place. Luckily keeping in touch has become so much easier with technology like WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram. With that said, it’s really important to have girlfriends local to me. Whenever I move, it’s a priority to get out there and meet new people.

Whether you’ve just moved or you’ve lived in the same place forever, it gets harder and harder to make new friends the older you get. Much like dating, you have to meet a lot of people before you find your tribe. I’ve moved a lot and have become somewhat of an expert in making new friends.

Here are 5 tips to get you started on making new friends.

1. Join local groups

During your pre-move planning do some ground work so you can hit the ground running when arriving in your new home. Check Facebook groups,, and LinkedIn to get involved with local groups that align with your career or personal interests.

2. Take part in community events

No better way to get to know your neighbors and to understand the community culture than by taking part in community events. Actively seek community social events, such as fundraisers, neighborhood parties, or local business events. So far I’ve found Facebook Groups to be one of the best ways to learn about local social events. By going to community events you’ll be exposed to people that care about their community and support local businesses.

3. Make the first move

You’ve made a real connection with someone who you think could be someone you’d like to hang out with again. Don’t just walk away and say you wished you got their number. Ask for their number and suggestion a coffee date or wine night. Also, don’t make it an empty invitation with no follow-up. Send her a text in a couple of days. They’ll appreciate your effort.

4. Listen and speak second

You’re meeting up with a new contact for some one on one time to see if there is a potential friendship there. Don’t just talk about yourself. Ask questions and let them speak first, listen to what they have to say and stay engaged. When you let someone speak first you are learning about them and showing them a genuine interest. It will also help you determine which direction you want to take this relationship.

5. Keep an open mind

I think this last tip is common sense but I put it in here as a reminder. Don’t judge people before you really get to know them. You just never know who might be your next best friend. It could be someone you least expect. Regardless of the depth of your relationship, it’s always good to meet people and build a network in your new home.

Now that you’re on your way to making new friends don’t forget about the relationships you’ve already invested in. With this being the month of Galentine's Day, it’s a good reminder to show love to the special ladies in your life. At one point these friends were there for you, and you probably shared a lot of laughing and crying together. Through much trial and error, I’ve found there are three key tactics you can use to keep the friendship with your long distance girlfriends alive and healthy.

1. Realign your expectations

You just moved so you may not have your crew yet and you begin to feel like you’re the only one putting effort into this long distance friendship. You’re always texting your girl and she just won’t get back to you. You can’t expect your best friend who once was your go-to girl for all venting and celebrations to still be that friend for you. Try to respect the fact that she may have stuff going on in her life that makes it hard to give you the attention you once had. She still lives in the place you just left and has her own day to day routines established. It’s not fair to expect her to respond immediately to every text or message and vice versa. You may feel like you’re giving 100% and only getting 50% in return. The reality is that your girlfriends 100% effort might feel like 50% but that IS her 100%. Don’t expect her to stay in contact over all of life's little moments. It’s not realistic and will set you and her up for a fall-out. When you communication changes make sure you…..

2. Never assume

Don’t assume she doesn’t care about you or has forgotten about you. Don’t assume she is mad at you for some unknown reason. You obviously had a good relationship at one point so give her the benefit of the doubt. Lastly, make sure you….

3. Keep communication channels open

Communication today is easy compared to just 10 years ago. Don’t bog your long distance girlfriends down with the play by play of your whole day. Instead, reserve your communication for more meaningful conversations and little positive messages. Don’t worry if you are the one that initiates the majority of the conversation. Sometimes that’s the role you might play in the relationship. We’re not all built equal so why would you expect her to be the exact same when it comes to long distance communication. Ask her how she is and be a listening ear for her. Just because she doesn’t actively seek you out to vent doesn’t mean she wouldn’t like to talk to you.

Keep in mind that any relationship in your life is like a living, breathing organism that requires nourishment and patience to reach full potential. Making friends and keeping friends both take a lot of work and time but is definitely worth it when you find those gems. Happy Galentine's Day and remember to send some love to your girlfriends on February 13th!

Colleen Rossignol is from eastern Canada, which is where she graduated with a Bachelor of Business Management from Dalhousie University. Post graduation, she enjoyed a successful 8-year career in marketing and advertising in Canada’s largest city, Toronto. She had the opportunity to work on some of the world’s largest brands such as Microsoft and Samsung along with other smaller brands and start-ups. In 2012 she immigrated to California and decided to change her career focus towards nonprofit work. After working with a global nonprofit focused on developing women leaders for a year she co-founded a nonprofit called The Village Link where the organization's focus is on sustainable economic development in the rural underserved communities of Sierra Leone, West Africa. In addition to her passion for nonprofit, she also operates a small photography business, C.R. Photography. Whether it’s taking pictures for a local family or documenting nonprofit projects, her passion for photography is to tell a visual story in it’s most authentic candid way.

IG @ccrosignol FB /CRossignolPhotography