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Breaking the Mold: Female Leaders in Science

An overview of the STEM landscape, what MEND is doing to combat the stereotypes, and the women we have leading our science.

In this article

Men continue to dominate the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workforce in many countries. Averaged across regions, women accounted for roughly a quarter of those employed in scientific research and development. The gender gap in STEM does not only remain, but is actually growing in many industries. In healthcare, 80% of the workforce are women, but female representation in leadership is flipped the other way. Today, only 21% of health executives and 33% of doctors are women.

What is the STEM Gap?

In the US, women earn a greater percentage of advanced degrees in biological and biomedical sciences. Women receive a premium for working in STEM (2x the earnings of women in non-STEM), but are more likely than men to work in the “STEM periphery”—roles in which they can apply STEM skills and expertise, but in lower-paying jobs outside of traditional STEM occupations. Female workers earn less than male even in such high-paying positions like STEM. Statistics show that women in STEM jobs are paid an average of 89 cents per each dollar that men in STEM make. In some fields, the wage gap is even larger. For example, female chemists earn 30% less than male chemists.

How can we close the STEM gap?

MEND, a New York based company working on a new class of pharma-based clinical nutrition, understands that we need to close this gap and that women taking more leadership roles in STEM will greatly benefit society. Raised by a single mother to 4 boys, founder Eziah Syed, learned through a lifetime of experience, the value of women in leadership roles in society (his mother is an award winning poet and author who focuses much of her work on women’s empowerment). That’s why he went to women first, in building a world class science team. MEND has consciously hired women to lead its science and R&D. Voices in the room and seats at the table are important when working on sustainably closing the gender gap in STEM. Diverse perspectives are invaluable in sparking more innovation and women in STEM have taken on the task of impacting their fields of study while simultaneously breaking down barriers. 

MEND believes it’s vitally important to celebrate these science leaders and raise awareness about their roles to inspire more women to enter STEM and pursue leadership roles. Meet our remarkable women science leaders below:

Women Leading the Science at MEND

Alexa Abdelaziz
Alexa Abdelaziz, PhD
Director Research & Development, MEND

Alexa holds an undergraduate degree in Materials Science Engineering and a Masters and PhD From Columbia University in Nutritional and Metabolic Biology. Her vast research experiences in the fields of nutrition, chemistry, biology, and engineering make her a well-rounded scientist with a unique perspective.

Why Alexa chose a career in STEM:

“Engineering gave me the insights to fundamentally break down complex problems and biochemistry and nutrition taught me how to apply that fundamental knowledge to people and improve their well-being. A career in STEM always excited me as an opportunity to get to explore a new unknown. With every discovery, new questions arise, and working in STEM allows me to try to answer some of these questions. Ultimately, I hope to inspire the next generation of problem solvers and work towards transforming healthcare.”

Erin has 20 years of research and leadership experience in community-based and academic settings, in both public and private sectors. In her current role as the Executive Director of the Slocum Research & Education Foundation she focuses on research and clinical trials to optimize musculoskeletal outcomes.

Why Erin chose a career in STEM:

“I was inspired by the way skilled research scientists use data to change programs, systems, and policies. I wanted a career that had the potential to inform change at every level of healthcare — individual providers and clinics through quality improvement metrics, payers and systems through big data predictive modeling, and most importantly, patient populations by trialing and reporting novel interventions to improve care.”

Erin Owen
Erin Owen, PhD, MPH
Science Board, MEND
Michele Niesly
Michele Niesly, ND, MS, FABNO
Science Board, MEND

Michelle earned a ND from Bastyr University, completed a residency in integrative oncology, and subsequently earned a Masters degree from Dartmouth College in Evaluative Clinical Sciences.   From directing a clinical trials unit to practicing primary care medicine in Alaska, her 20 years of clinical integrative medicine practice provides a unique insight into key determinants of optimal healthcare.

Why Michele chose a career in STEM:

“As a child, science encouraged my determined questioning, and provided me with systems to understand the fascinating world around me. As a doctor and researcher, STEM provides a construct to understand how our internal systems work together to optimize health. I apply the principles of STEM daily to evaluate the impact of medical and nutritional treatments using biochemistry, physiology, anatomy, and nutrigenomics. New scientific discoveries frequently reframe what we thought we knew, and it’s this constant revising and refining that makes healthcare an evolving and exciting field.”

Heidi holds two masters degrees, one in Exercise Science and the other in Human Nutrition. As a leader in the field of sports nutrition, Heidi has overseen the performance nutrition at Juilliard and the School of American Ballet after working with many of NY’s preeminent pro teams;  NY Knicks (8 yr ), Giants (18 yrs), and the NY Mets (15 yrs). In addition Heidi has been a part  of  the Women Sports Medicine Center at Hospital for Special Surgery for over 20 years. 

Why Heidi chose a career in STEM:

“My path to nutrition and exercise science was really one of passion and intense interest. When I went to school, the field of sports nutrition and exercise science was new, there was not even an undergraduate class option to take. For me, I saw it as an exciting and dynamic field and that has proved to be true.”

Heidi Skolnik
Heidi Skolnik, MS, CDN, FACSM
Science Board, MEND
Lauren Antonucci
Lauren Antonucci, MS, RD, CSSD, CDN
Science Board, MEND

Lauren has been a Board Certified Sports Dietitian for over 15 years as well as a Certified Diabetes Educator, and is a mom of three, runner and Ironman triathlete. She is also the author of the newly released book, High-Performance Nutrition for Masters athletes.

Why Lauren chose a career in STEM:

“From a very young age I was curious about how our bodies work, how our brains think and how we can perform at our best. As a young swimmer and runner I wanted to learn the “truths” about what fueled optimal performance. As a young thinker I loved coming up with ideas (hypothesis) and working with others to test and prove (or disprove) those ideas. Science to me has always seemed like a fun game that bright minds played both alone in their brains and collectively as a group to serve the greater good and advance many areas of our lives. I continue to get excited about new ideas, concepts, experiments and thoughts today, and am confident that I always will. Asking many and often difficult questions leads to answers that can guide our actions and also allow us to dismiss myths and untruths that have previously held us back, both individually and collectively.”

Jacqueline Eghrari-Sabet MD is  board certified in Allergy/Immunology and Pediatrics and has been part of the MEND team since inception as the first (female) physician. She is the founder of a large multi office medical practice and clinical research institute, treating children and adults since 1994 in the metro DC area. She is the president of White Coat Resources a health education consulting service that helps connect patients to therapy through innovative medical messaging and educational programs. Dr. Eghrari-Sabet served for 12 years as a medical contributor for NBC News in Washington, DC, and continues to write  health articles for news and popular publications, as well as scientific journals. She continues to serve patients and teach physicians developing curriculum for telemedicine. Her bucket list goal was realized when she became Assistant Clinical Professor at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences where she mentors the next generation of Drs.

Why Jackie chose a career in STEM:

“I was committed to a career in medicine from an early age, as the daughter of a surgeon. I saw it as the pinnacle of using my well trained mind and tenacity in service to the health of others.  It has been the honor of my life to accompany patients —  bringing  complex immunology principles, and making them accessible, understandable and useful to them.  

It never grows old — the thrill of seeing science improve peoples health and lives. “

Jackie Eghrari-Sabet
Jackie Eghrari-Sabet, MD
Science Board, MEND