October 1, 2020

Novel platform for women in science receives research award

Initiative towards gender equality in STEM leadership positions receives Wissen schaf[f]t Zukunft award from Lower Austria

Das Team von The STEM fatale Initiative [Photo: Rafaela Pröll] v.l.n.r.:  Nicole Amberg, Lisa Cichocki, Melissa Stouffer, Angela Bitto-Nemling
The team of The STEM fatale Initiative from left to right:
Nicole Amberg, Lisa Cichocki, Melissa Stouffer, Angela Bitto-Nemling. © Rafaela Pröll

Chances for women being offered a faculty position in STEM (an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) are rising significantly, but women’s application rates remain very low. Puzzled by this observation, IST Austria scientists Nicole Amberg and Melissa Stouffer teamed up with Lisa Cichocki (formerly IST Austria, now Bristol Myers Squibb) and statistics expert Angela Bitto-Nemling to launch “The STEM fatale Initiative”. This initiative is aiming to map and tackle the challenges of women in STEM and provide a networking and mentoring platform. The framework for The STEM fatale Initiative has now received Lower Austria’s Wissen schaf[f]t Zukunft award in the category “Call for Concept”.

In 2019, the STEM fatale lecture series was created at the Institute of Science and Technology (IST) Austria. Here, successful women across STEM disciplines present their career paths and how they overcame (not only) gender-related challenges in their professional lives. Scientists Nicole Amberg and Melissa Stouffer, both postdocs in the research group of Simon Hippenmeyer, are part of the team that started the lectures. Due to the immensely positive feedback, Nicole and Melissa felt the need to characterize the challenges for women in STEM careers in more detail. Together with Lisa Cichocki and Angela Bitto-Nemling, they developed a platform that would provide data-driven, evidence-based information about positive and negative impacts on women’s careers, and which offers additional networking and mentoring activities.

“The campus-wide STEM fatale lecture series incorporates two parts: one is a women’s only round table discussion, where IST’s women scientists can informally exchange experiences and get insights into navigating careers from a successful and well-established female leader in the field. The second part is a scientific talk, in which our invited guest presents a short summary of her career trajectory and her scientific achievements to the whole institute. Thereby, we not only enable women to talk about challenges, but also showcase achievements. This lecture series and it’s benefits have proven to be a well-attended and recognized internal event at IST Austria by providing a first step for supportive exchange and networking,” describes Melissa Stouffer.

Award ceremony of the wissen schaf[f]t zukunft prize at the science gala on September 30 NLK Pfeiffer from left to right: Melissa Stouffer, Nicole Amberg, Landesrat Jochen Danninger, Lisa Cichocki, Angela Bitto-Nemling, State Governor Johanna Mikl-Leitner. © NLK Pfeiffer
Award ceremony of the Wissen schaf[f]t Zukunft prize at the science gala on September 30 NLK Pfeiffer from left to right: Melissa Stouffer, Nicole Amberg, Landesrat Jochen Danninger, Lisa Cichocki, Angela Bitto-Nemling, State Governor Johanna Mikl-Leitner. © NLK Pfeiffer

Thus, The STEM fatale Initiative presents the next step of reaching out to women in STEM and providing them with advice, support, and exchange. As a key scientific landmark, The STEM fatale Initiative team designed a survey to determine women-specific career challenges and to establish a best-practice handbook. Their results will allow prioritization of dedicated measures to tackle the hurdles and enable women’s empowerment towards leadership positions in STEM. Now, the province of Lower Austria awarded The STEM fatale Initiative with the Wissen schaf[f]t Zukunft award, which celebrates an innovative and actionable education project originating from Lower Austria.

Nicole Amberg explains: “Achieving gender equality in academic institutions will not end inequalities on a global scale, but it might be the beginning of the end. A scientific community that intentionally and systematically embraces diversity through equality will challenge the status quo and become the driving force for society. With our initiative, the number of women who are STEM leaders will increase, thus providing compelling role models for our students and other workplaces. Being recognized by the award committee of the province of Lower Austria is of high relevance for our initiative, since the award greatly supports our educational aims, both on the individual level for women scientists and on the collective level for society.”

“Science depends on and is enriched by the interaction of people from different backgrounds, countries, cultures, and genders. Equality, diversity, and inclusion are indispensable values to which we commit ourselves wholeheartedly. Therefore, I am proud that our initiative empowers women to take on leadership roles in science. I congratulate the initiators of the STEM Fatale project and thank them very much for their initiative and efforts!” says Thomas Henzinger, President of the IST Austria.

More information on The STEM fatale Initiative can be found here.



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