Equality Beyond the Classroom

This image requires alt text, but the alt text is currently blank. Either add alt text or mark the image as decorative. Stephanie Bair
Photography by Nate Edwards/BYU
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The issue of equality in the workplace is not a new problem, but there is still progress to be made in the name of leveling the playing field for women in all vocations.

PROVO, Utah (October 13, 2020)—It was August 18, 1920 when the 19th Amendment was ratified, giving women the right to vote. The past 100 years have seen much reform for the rights of women; and yet, with how far the world has come, there is still progress to be made.

BYU associate professor of law Stephanie Bair is one of many who recognize that there is still much work to be done in the name of equality.

In a Global Women’s Studies Colloquium held on September 11, 2020, Bair introduced her plan to research how gender norms affect innovation, specifically researching science labs led by women.

“The ultimate value of ideas is when they get implemented by people and when people learn about them and talk about them and use them, and so it’s not just about coming up with ideas; it’s getting them out into the world.” Bair continued that, “there’s some really interesting research . . . . that it’s harder for women to get their ideas out into the world . . . . [One] study suggests that it is hard [women] to get a patent just based on their name being female versus male.”

Bair also noted that there are studies suggesting that even when women are able to get patents for their ideas, their research is cited less frequently than their male counterparts, thus reaching a far smaller audience, with less of a chance to be a catalyst for change.

Despite her education in primarily male-dominated fields, Bair did not recognize the effects of her being a woman until after her training was complete. Bair has been able to shine a light on female researchers through her work thanks to her experiences with undergraduate studies in physics and Ph.D. training in neuroscience, followed by her work with law and innovation.

Bair understands that the lack of female representation in professional fields is an issue, and she shared the following concern: “It’s a problem for society as a whole because . . . . if you care about economic growth and innovation and ideas, the economy runs on those things, right?. So, if there’s a bunch of ideas out there that could be advancing that cause, and they are not, for the simple reason that the originators of those ideas are women rather than men, then society as a whole is going to suffer from that.”

Bair later added that “advancing the interests of people who are in disadvantaged positions it actually not just for them. It’s for the benefit of society as a whole because these are people who really could be contributing to society through innovation, and we’re losing out on their contributions . . . . That that is one thing that I would like people to understand, that it is not just some kind of charity project to advance the interests of women and minorities. It’s a project that’s going to benefit everyone.”

Due to COVID-19, Bair had to postpone her research, but she is making plans to adjust her research to comply with current health codes.

Bair hopes that her research will reach beyond BYU to change perceptions about women in professional fields. “

“I hope that [research like this] can be motivating both to women and to men. Sometimes when you hear these types of statistics [about women], it can be depressing, and you can think about everything that is wrong and all the problems that need to be solved. But I’d like to think that being aware of these issues can actually be really motivating for everyone and for women, because they can understand that maybe some of the challenges that they are facing are not just individual challenges, but systemic challenges.”

Bair’s research, along with the work of many others, is what fuels the fight to change for the better and gives hope for the future of all.

Molly Ogden Welch (Communications, ’22)