Building more gender-balanced STEM workforces - Activate World

Building more gender-balanced STEM workforces


Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation uses 100% of its donations to find and fund new generations of breakthrough cancer researchers. Since its founding in 1946, the Foundation has invested over $360 million in funding more than 3,700 researchers. As the foundation’s president and CEO, Dr. Yung S. Lie has made it her mission to promote STEM education and encourage more women to enter into science, technology, engineering, and math-related careers. She is having remarkable success, today, 42% of Damon Runyon’s 212 actively-funded scientists are women, well above the world average of 30%.

Dr. Lie began her association with Damon Runyon in 2001 as a cancer researcher and recipient of a Damon Runyon Award. She is now the first-ever scientist to run the Foundation and brings a unique perspective to her role having experienced first-hand the challenges of being a woman in the traditionally male-dominated field of scientific research. Dr. Lie continues driving gender equity forward in STEM careers and credits several female mentors for helping her become established early on.

According to Dr. Lie, there are a number of ways that STEM businesses can build a more gender-balanced workforce, including:

  • Companies should practice early outreach to students in high school and college – they should view it as part of their job to help young women become excited about pursuing careers in STEM. This can be done by creating internship opportunities and mentoring events to bring young women into organizations and show them what is possible.
  • STEM businesses should encourage current employees to actively engage in networking. Although sometimes awkward and uncomfortable, it is essential for building a stronger workforce. Employees can help other women learn about professional opportunities in STEM by forging social connections with them.
  • After women are on board in an organization, strong mentorship is critical. New female hires should be paired with more experienced women. Experienced mentors should be engaged in the process and willing to spend time with mentees. Companies should provide training in and reinforcement of good mentorship.

Dr. Lie offers this advice to those seeking to align their career with their life purpose “Don’t let yourself be plagued by imposter syndrome. Believe in yourself and your abilities. Realize that failure is okay – it is a learning experience, and you will bounce back and be better and stronger as a result. But don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Stay close to mentors and friends who will guide you and support you even when there are challenges.”


  • There are many reasons why the gender gap in STEM exists. One is a pipeline issue – fewer girls than boys choose to study STEM subjects at the secondary school and university levels for a variety of reasons.
  • Breakthrough research at Damon Runyon includes identifying the link between smoking and lung cancer, curing a solid tumor through chemotherapy, and leading the clinical studies resulting in the first FDA-approved immunotherapy drug.”
  • Dr. Lie manages Damon Runyon’s six award programs, with an annual budget of approximately $18 million, and serves as the primary liaison between current and former award recipients, the Foundation, and its private donors and corporate sponsors.

Quests and Actions (Q&A)

  • A recent study has shown that five-year-old girls are just as likely to say that girls can be “really, really smart” but from six years up they think brilliance is much more likely in boys. What can parents and society do to change these gender stereotypes?
  • Educators can play an important role in closing the gender gap in STEM fields. You can help by advocating that K-12 curriculums be reworked to foster an interest in technology among young female students – and include hands-on science and technology workshops targeted at girls.
  • Organizations like the National Math and Science Initiative, Girl Geeks, and Million Women Mentors help young women obtain the right tools, knowledge and experience to pursue careers in STEM fields. How can you increase awareness of these programs in your community?

Sources:  Forbes,The Atlantic,The Guardian

Photo by Ani Kolleshi on Unsplash