Today, despite making up approximately half the U.S. population, women still account for less than one-third of the STEM workforce. In a moment where there is so much at stake in cancer research, the Helen Gurley Brown Presidential Initiative at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is playing a critical role in dismantling this gender gap and harnessing the power and potential of women in science.
Named in honor of the influential longtime editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, the late Helen Gurley Brown (pictured), the initiative is dedicated to combating gender disparities by empowering and fostering exceptional women researchers and leaders in academic medicine. Since creating the initiative in 2016, the Helen Gurley Brown Foundation has supported four cohorts of Helen Fellows, postdoctoral and early career researchers who receive mentorship from distinguished faculty known as Helen Mentors.
With each year, the research of the Helen Fellows continues to diversify, covering a wide array of disciplines across cancer medicine and science including reproductive health, pediatric oncology, immunology, and survivorship. Over eight years, 26 faculty members have participated as Helen Mentors, including Laurie H. Glimcher, MD, president and CEO of Dana-Farber and the Richard and Susan Smith Professor of Medicine, who refers to the program as a point of pride. Pediatric oncologist Kimberly Stegmaier, MD, the Ted Williams Chair at Dana-Farber who credits mentors for helping her advance in her own career, is currently in her third cycle as a Helen Mentor. “This initiative bolsters the confidence of the fellows, instilling critical faith and security, while creating a scientific family of support among peers,” Stegmaier reflects.
Since 2020, the foundation has also supported Helen Trailblazer Awards at Dana-Farber. These one-year grants fuel innovative research projects and elevate the investigations of mid-career faculty to the next level, a critical juncture where many women lose funding and are forced to leave their fields. The foundation’s most recent grant is enabling the expansion of the program to eight awards over the next two years.
The collaboration between the Helen Gurley Brown Foundation and Dana-Farber embodies a collective commitment to driving progress in cancer research through investigations led by women. Foundation President Eve Burton believes Brown would be immensely proud of the initiative. “She was a trailblazer and champion for women’s empowerment and refused to let barriers stop women’s contributions from changing the world,” says Burton. “Together, we are working towards a world where women’s achievements know no bounds—not only today, but for generations to come.”
View video of the Helen Gurley Brown Presidential Summit on Women and Science from June 20, 2023.
For more stories about the impact of philanthropy at Dana-Farber, please visit DanaFarberImpact.org.