STEM Professional Development

About Jayhawks Breaking Barriers

Jayhawks Breaking Barriers started as a spring 2017 semester-long project at the University of Kansas organized by graduate and postdoctoral students and funded by the American Association of University Women (AAUW). This project aimed to increase awareness of the gender leadership gap in STEM, empower women through leadership and mentoring opportunities, and foster discussion about the gender leadership gap among university women and the community.

Nationally, females comprise 30%, 15% and 40% of the technology, engineering and life sciences workforce [1]. Locally, management positions across all fields fall in the top three occupations for men, but not in the top five for women [2]. It is not clear how genders proportion out across organizational hierarchies within STEM fields locally. We aim to increase awareness of gender composition in local STEM leadership, and improve participation of women in these positions. Because of our rural location, employment opportunities have been limited. Now, biotech professionals are flocking to Kansas City [3], providing an opportunity to connect women to the leadership pipeline during a time when gender gaps are a national conversation.

Ten pairs of underrepresented, undergraduate women across STEM fields interacted with local companies and organizations to explore the leadership gap in our community through data collection. Through this data collection, analysis and visualization, participants gained an understanding of the gender composition that exists locally and will generate information useful in advocating for change. Concurrently, the women underwent leadership and professional development training to help them develop a more sophisticated understanding of leadership and to give them the tools and confidence to pursue leadership roles.

The lack of female mentors is a major contributor to the gender leadership gap. Quality interactions with female role models have been shown to improve college women’s self-concepts of their own leadership abilities and career ambitions [4]. Our project incorporated a layered mentorship structure where women from various career stages in STEM are paired with our undergraduate participants. Graduate students and postdoctoral researchers provided mentorship from an advanced trainee perspective while women leaders in the community provided an established professional network for the participants. Additionally, undergraduates themselves were paired by asymmetrical leadership experiences so they could provide near peer mentorship for each other.

A final event concluded the project with poster presentations and advocacy by the students. With the guidance of a keynote speaker, the event facilitated discussions between the future workforce, workforce leaders, and educators about how all can work together to minimize the leadership gap.



[2] Ginther, et al. 2016. KU Institute of Policy & Social Research.


[4] Asgari, et al. 2012. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.



Dr. Hannah Kinmonth-Schultz and BioKansas’ Dennis Ridenour kicking off the Fall 2018 STEM Professional Development…

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