Women in STEM. Over the past two decades it has become a common topic, and an area of focus in American education. In most STEM professions, women are a minority. The American Medical Association reports the vast gender gaps that exist in residencies for fields such as radiology (73% male), anesthesiology (63% male) and emergency medicine (62% male). At the same time however, women make up a significant majority in programs for pediatrics (75%), obstetrics/gynecology (85%), and family medicine (58%).
Histology counts itself among those STEM fields that actually favor females. NSH’s Facebook page for example; 67% female, 33% male following. But what is it about histology that lends itself well to the female sex?
In celebration of Women’s History Month, NSH sat down with some of our female members for a second season of “Women in Histology”, our popular podcast series interviewing female histotechs. While last season featured specific topics, such as negotiations, mentoring, and work-life balance, this season highlights the generational differences that exist between women in various stages of their histology careers.
Each career stage, early career, mid-career, and advanced career has their own episode in which they share their challenges, goals, and advice. Each of our lady histotechs also shared her thoughts on why histology is such a woman driven profession.
Our early and mid-careers kick off the discussion with the impact of nursing, famously a female profession, on the histology gender gap. Nursing today remains a female driven profession because of its early roots as one of the few professions generally embraced as a socially acceptable job for a woman. As women explored the limited career options available to them, they stumbled upon histology, creating another female led profession that has never completely lost its feminine founding. Even today, histology is a profession that people tend to stumble into, and nursing has remained a common stumbling block. Many of our modern techs have found their way into related clinical laboratory professions such as histology, while exploring nursing.
Our mid-career interviewees Sherita and Priscilla add to this hypothesis, the importance of the female network. They have seen first-hand the power of women referring other women, indirectly through casual conversations with friends, and directly through letters of recommendation, and involvement in teaching, as Jamie Pert, a Program Director, attests to in her interview. The founding women of histology passed down the female dominated profession to their female mentees, sustaining an environment where women could excel while others in STEM could not.
That is one theory. Here’s another. Women are just better multi-taskers. Histology requires remarkable attention to detail, the ability to multi-task, and the ability to take on an immense workload and be able to juggle it all. As our mid-career women discuss, with turnaround times, limited budgets, and changing technologies, it can feel like you’re constantly being asked to do more. Women are unfortunately already well trained in handling impossible standards, making them the perfect candidate for the busy histology laboratory. So, this March we celebrate all of our superhero women, saving lives one slide at a time! Listen to the podcasts!
Want to share your story of how you got into histology? Submit your “How I Got Into Histology” story, to NSH’s story contest. You’ll be able to read the story submissions during Laboratory Professionals Week, April 22-26.