By Mary Ellen Holden

For many years, Lyda Hill Philanthropies® founder Lyda Hill has posited that “science is the answer” to life’s most challenging issues, and she is right. COVID 19 has changed our lives, and the world now understands that science matters.

Today, the STEM community across sectors and borders is front and center in our world. Scientists, researchers, and medical workers are laboring to save lives; the Internet has become a lifeline to remote learning, business, and human connection. Concurrently, our society has come to rely on onscreen programming as educators, babysitters, and a source for escapism and vital information. Visual learning and storytelling have assumed paramount importance. People care about science; it’s relevant to them as the pandemic is affecting everyone.

Nicole Small,
CEO Lyda Hill Philanthropies

The timing couldn’t be more perfect for the launch of the IF/THEN® Collection – the world’s first, free, and most extensive digital resource library (featuring photos and videos of diverse and powerful contemporary women in STEM) created to bolster the portfolio of women in STEM imagery worldwide. This imagery helps to combat stereotypes and gender bias in education, careers, media, and journalism. I had the opportunity to interview Nicole Small, CEO of Lyda Hill Philanthropies®, to learn more about this important initiative.

Mary Ellen: Why launch the IF/THEN® Collection now, amidst the pandemic?

Nicole: This is a project we have been passionate about and working on for several years. The Collection launch was planned for this summer – the need for it has become ever more critical during this pandemic as we spend so much time in virtual learning. At Lyda Hill Philanthropies, we invest in science. We recognized that there was a huge gap in role models for women and girls in STEM. Today, imagery influences everything – our kids are curating their lives on TikTok and Snapchat, so you see how important representation is to our world and particularly to young girls.

We’re trying to cure cancer, address climate change, and disrupt COVID, which means we need the right brains at the table. We want to inspire girls to go into STEM careers. We need everybody (men and women) at the table to solve those issues.

We know, “IF she can see it, THEN she can be it.” Yet, when you look around, you realize that little girls don’t see themselves represented in STEM jobs in museum exhibits, textbooks, TV ads, shows, and movies. So, we need to make sure that the images that are in front of these girls are telling the right story to them about what they can be.

Partnering with GoldieBlox on YouTube content, Litton Entertainment on cross-platform content through Mission Unstoppable (Geena and the Institute’s CEO Madeline Di Nonno are Executive Producers and Elizabeth Kilpatrick VP of Development is a producer), and launching this Collection enables us to surround our kids with these positive images. We have a tremendous opportunity to capitalize on this Collection and tell the stories on TV, YouTube, social media, museum walls, or to provide content to teachers who desperately need the stories right now.

People are hungry for credible, high-quality virtual content now more than ever. And we are lucky enough to have a gift to give to the world of this free digital resource that’s never been available before.

Mary Ellen: What is your development strategy for the Collection?

Nicole: Our strategy all along has been to partner with organizations that are thought leaders in their fields. We partner with the best. For example, we knew that DonorsChoose was the best way to reach teachers. They have a phenomenal business model, and they have been working with schools and classrooms for years; they reach millions of teachers. We partnered with Girl Scouts of the USA because it was a great way to connect with mentors and girls out of school. We have school time (with DonorsChoose, Nepris and Teach for America), and during out of school time, we have the Girl Scouts for badges and US Soccer, National Geographic, Conservation International, and more (you can see them all on our website). We also work with NGOs who have platforms to tell their stories, and each of our Ambassadors has personal networks and organizations to tell theirs.

We’ve developed a multi-tiered strategy to surround girls with these images no matter where they are.

Mary Ellen: Could you share a little about your direct-to-consumer strategy?

Nicole: In addition to in-school and out of school partnerships – we have a direct-to-consumer strategy. For example, museums across the country are beginning to reopen, and they are so happy to have this new, inspirational content.

We also had the idea to produce an exhibition several years ago before we knew that statues were going to be quite controversial. We produced 122, 3-D printed badass female role model statues of our If/Then® ambassadors  that we can start to put in the world right now as part of #IfThenSheCan – The Exhibit. We need positive stories, and the exhibit (featuring contemporary women of all ages and backgrounds working in STEM careers) is a way that we will be releasing their stories into the world. It will be another venue where the general public will learn about these women. So, we’ve got in-school, out of school and direct-to-consumer touch points.

Mary Ellen: What is your roll-out strategy for the exhibition?

Nicole: Our strategy for everything we do is to meet girls where they are. We were scheduled to open the exhibition in May, and it was going to be the most extensive collection of statues of women anywhere in the world at one time. With the pandemic, we decided to take a subset of figures and share them with the world in a different way. On August 17th, we’re going to unveil six statues at the Central Park Zoo (in NYC); the exhibit will stay up until October. One of the women depicted on a statue sent me a note which said, “I was a young black woman, and now I’m going to be a statue in Central Park – my grandparents would never believe it.” It’s going to be life changing, a remarkable story, and we hope a way to get people interested in the IF/THEN® Collection. You know, “if you can see it, then you can be it.”

Mary Ellen: Could you provide a glimpse into your out of school strategy?

Nicole: Out of school time is another place where ideas get put into girls’ heads on what they can be when they grow up. The Girl Scouts have such great leadership and history, and they think about how to inspire girls in a more structured way. Our Ambassadors work on their STEM badges, which becomes a gateway to sharing images and stories with millions of girls. What we think about is what are the other gateways to how girls see things and want to learn more.

Another example is GoldieBlox, as Debbie Sterling is an engineer and founder. GoldieBlox has a presence in-school, in museums, and onscreen. The repetition of women in different places, such as Debbie Sterling, reinforces our goal.

Mary Ellen: Can you talk to us about the relevance of the Collection for content creators?

Nicole: We learned from Geena, Madeline, and our Portray Her STEM study, that until women are in the lead roles, we’re not going to change people’s views of the world. We support GDI’s mission and vision that content creators, showrunners, and scriptwriters are making sure that women are in these roles. And we know what a difference it can make with Doc McStuffins. On a personal note, my child has watched every episode of Grey’s Anatomy… she thinks she could be a doctor because right now she’s Meredith Grey!  And, then there’s Black Panther – having a young woman as the lead in the lab was terrific. We need that to happen more and more. We will continue to support the Institute’s work to change Hollywood as we know that one movie can change millions of lives, which is why we’re so focused on the media piece of this. Content creators are encouraged to pull from our Collection for inspiration, character development, and as a resource for newsrooms looking to diversify their portfolio of STEM experts.

Mary Ellen: What have you learned during the pandemic?

Nicole: Our whole goal is to make science relevant to people, but some people didn’t care. Now, with the pandemic, everybody cares all of the sudden, and science is the answer. Introducing the Collection to the world now is great because I think the world finally understands why we should care about science. After all, no one can move on with their lives until science fixes it. There is no fix other than science for this situation. Whereas climate change or cancer may not have been relevant, COVID is affecting everyone, so everybody cares about science.

Mary Ellen: Do you have any final thoughts on the Collection that you’d like to share with our audience.

Nicole: At a time when funding is tight, the Collection is a free resource to nonprofit organizations, museums, schools, teachers, camps, parents, the media, and more. As our country is in the midst of a very unusual and fluid back-to-school season, featuring both remote and in-person learning, the IF/THEN® Collection can be a free and engaging staple for teachers across our nation.

These are real people with real stories doing amazing things. And I think it’s important that everybody understand that they should find something they’re passionate about and that they may have the opportunity to make a career out of that. It’s not about everybody winning a Nobel Prize, but what we want is for every kid, every little girl knowing that they have the opportunity to do that. We’ve got the climate, cancer, and COVID right now, and we need everyone to step up and solve these problems. These are real women with real stories and real lives, doing cool and relevant things.