The “leaky pipeline” of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), which is especially acute for academic mothers, continues to be problematic as women face continuous cycles of barriers and obstacles to advancing further in their fields. The severity and prevalence of the COVID-19 pandemic both highlighted and exacerbated the unique challenges faced by female graduate students, postdocs, research staff, and principal investigators because of lockdowns, quarantines, school closures, lack of external childcare, and heightened family responsibilities, on top of professional responsibilities. This perspective provides recommendations of specific policies and practices that combat stigmas faced by women in STEM and can help them retain their careers. We discuss actions that can be taken to support women within academic institutions, journals, government/federal centers, university-level departments, and individual research groups. These recommendations are based on prior initiatives that have been successful in having a positive impact on gender equity—a central tenet of our postpandemic vision for the STEM workforce.

A virtual conference was organized in May 2021 by Mothers in Science (MiS), a nonprofit international organization whose goal is to enhance employment and retention of women in STEM careers. The meeting included 176 participants from 46 countries. Not only did this event highlight the “motherhood penalties” women scientists commonly experience, but it also documented how the COVID-19 pandemic prompted changes that can aid scientists in balancing parenthood and research. Inspired by these changes, we outline four key actions at institutional, nonfederal, and federal levels to address the major pre-existing STEM disparities that have worsened due to the pandemic crisis:

  1. Targeted support for female scientists who are mothers, including better childcare options and maternity leave policies;
  2. The establishment of institutional advocates for female scientists and the unique issues they face;
  3. Individualized pathways and improved mentoring for academic advancement by female scientists; and
  4. Improved funding for female scientists through increased grant and publication opportunities providing additional time, supplements, and flexible grant deadlines.

Read the full article about keeping women in STEM by Anuj Shah, Isabella Lopez, Bapurao Surnar, Shrita Sarkar, Lunthita M. Duthely, Asha Pillai, Tina T. Salguero, and Shanta Dhar at National Library of Medicine.