Attracting women to and retaining them in STEM fields require institutional investment in female role-models and in mentorship programs, said Robin Rasor, executive director of Duke’s Office of Licensing and Ventures, at a congressional hearing April 3.
Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Rasor discussed how Duke’s mentorship programs and high levels of women in the top levels of administration shapes Duke’s approach to this problem.
Titled “Trailblazers and Lost Einsteins: Women Inventors and the Future of American Innovation,” the hearing addressed the gender disparity in patents filed, held and litigated by women. In his opening remarks, Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC), chairman of the Senate subcommittee, noted that, “If we don’t take steps now to encourage more women to engage in technology-intensive professions and patents, we will miss another generation of inventor pioneers.”
Rasor began the opening remarks portion noting Duke’s high number of women inventors. She credited the success to Duke’s high levels of women in university leadership and its many established mentorship programs. The high rates of women in leadership offer other women the chance to see role models in action and inspire them to advance professionally, she said.
Rasor said: “65 percent of Duke University and Duke University Health System employees are women, compared to the national average of 47 percent. We have women chairs in a variety of STEM fields: Chemistry, Pediatrics, Statistics, Medicine and Evolutionary Anthropology.”
In addition, about 40 percent Duke University’s Board of Trustees are women.
Rasor also noted how mentorship programs at Duke offer team-based support mechanisms for both faculty and students.
She noted a survey of female students at Duke underscored the importance of mentorship and other social factors. Rasor said the “survey of our women students indicated that while they originally were attracted to Duke for its ranking and reputation in their field of study, nearly 95 percent of them thought Duke provided a supportive environment for innovation.”