From Elbow Grease & Duct Tape to Orca, a 500 Women Scientists Pods Journey
November 2016 was a turning point for a lot of people, including me. I was naïve during the Obama years, blindly thinking America had turned a corner and decided to end racism, bigotry, and discrimination. I was very wrong, and as a white woman, I knew that my complacency was part of the problem.
I fell into a depression that lasted a few months, but then an email dropped into my inbox. It spoke of a pledge to do better and to use the science I love to create a more equitable world. “Fuck Yes!” I thought, and I reached out to these 500 Women Scientists, excited to begin changing the world for the better.
In February of 2017, Dr. Lexi Moore Crisp and I began a 500 Women Scientists “Pod” in Philadelphia — the city we love and work in every day. Local chapters of 500 Women Scientists are called Pods. The word “Pod” is a nod to ‘whale pods’, highlighting teamwork and collaboration. This was our opportunity to go out into the world and be the catalysts for social transformation together.
I loved it! I loved reaching out to kids, speaking to my representatives, and writing about how we need to step up and make change. We attended the March for Science, started going to local science fairs and carnivals, presented posters together, all the while balancing kids and family and work. Our network grew, our efforts spoke to so many other women in science, and we created life long friendships. It was invigorating and exhausting at the same time. We were so successful that the Philly Pod quickly became a highlight for the National Pod of the Week.
Lexi had joined the 500 Women Scientists Climate Change Strike Team — a National campaign — and had learned of the Board Meeting in November. She asked me if I wanted to join her, as she thought I would enjoy it. I said yes, and we drove to Washington, D.C. for the November 2017 Leadership Board Meeting. We joined the Pods team and quickly began to come up with ideas on how to organize over 100 global Pods. It seemed overwhelming, we had no money, all of our time had to be volunteered, and we knew we had limited resources. I remember discussing filing for non-profit status, what we would need, what that would mean for our local Pods and members. I sat next to Kelly Ramirez (co-founder of 500 Women Scientists) as we typed away in our Google Drives and made spreadsheets and notes and organized — bliss!
Dr. Angie Prendergast had created an ingenious system via Google that integrated with the 500 Women Scientists website. People would sign up to “join a Pod” via the website and then the Apps Scripts would trigger a series of events that sent emails, collected data in large master spreadsheets and enabled us to contact all those women scientists. I saw a need for further organization, and so we began building and improving this plane as it was flying and approaching warp speed. Angie’s system was brilliant — it enabled us to create a network where each Pod could grow its members and start to make local changes, but there were clear needs considering our rate of growth.
Angie’s work set the stage for prosperity, and moving forward I knew there would be further needs. At that first meeting, the team and I realized there were some big hurdles to tackle:
1. How do these Pods know how to operate?
2. How do they raise money? And can they raise money?
3. Can we establish a system of communication and networking allowing us to support each other and share ideas?
We countered these problems with the following solutions
1. Write a Standard Operating Procedure for Pods (There is nothing I love more than a good SOP).
2. Create a network by establishing US and International Regions and then assigning Regional Coordinators.
3. Begin newsletters and check-ins where we share Pod Activities, accomplishments, and inspire other Pods to do the same
That SOP was a labor of love, I learned so much about non-profit law and how we needed to communicate the boundaries of what we could do. It was a true team effort, but I was the most enthusiastic! Jillian Roamer (former Philly Pod Coordinator) gave me the template and helped edit my final draft, Lexi helped me write and organize the SOP, Ramya (a Leadership Board Member) wrote about the importance of language and inclusivity, and all the while I was supported by many members of the leadership team.
The Pods Team has come a long way since that first meeting in 2017. We helped create standards, resources, and grew our network. I am forever grateful for all the skills, friends, and networks I acquired while part of the team. I watched Pods grow from 120, to 250 to now over 500! Globally, Pods have more than 14,000 members!
I quickly became the lead coordinator for the Pods team, and stayed in that position for over two years. I stepped down from the team in 2020, but I will always fondly remember my time with this organization. Especially this month, as 500 Women Scientists launches a new Pods management system, Orca. I had always hoped for something like this for our Pods since I joined the leadership team in 2017. And I’m so proud to have helped lay the groundwork to make Orca a reality.
Working for 500 Women Scientists was the most rewarding experience of my life. People often spoke to me of the challenges and toxicity in non-profit work, but I never experienced this during my tenure on the Leadership Board. All of us had a seat at the table, all of us had a voice, every idea was valued. There was no hierarchy, nor shame nor belittling of ourselves or our minds. We were a true cooperative, pushing our boundaries, insisting that we create a more equitable scientific community and supporting each other the entire time. It makes my heart sing when I see the change in the faces of the Leadership Board today as more Black and Brown women have joined the team. 500 Women Scientists is paving the way to a world with more equity, justice and inclusivity, I suggest we all pay attention and follow by example.
Written by Tanya Dapkey