Kathryn (Katie) Schubert joined the Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR) as President and CEO in April 2020. Under Katie’s leadership SWHR developed a strategic plan focused on fulfilling the organization’s mission of promoting research on biological sex differences in disease and improving women’s health through science, policy, and education.

Read the Q&A with Katie Schubert below.

WAM: What do we mean when we say there’s a “research gap” when it comes to women’s health? What caused this gap—and what’s its biggest cost to women’s health?
Katie Schubert: The research gap in women’s health refers to the gap in information about conditions that differently, disproportionately, and exclusively effect women, rooted in a historical context that for decades centered men in research, as well as the lack of funding for research in these types of conditions or life stages.

Not including women in research costs us a lot. Excluding women can be detrimental to their health and often leads to more questions than answers, as we recently saw during the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine uptake among pregnant individuals. This gap also costs the economy: a Women’s Health Access Matters Report found that investing $300 million in women’s health would generate $13 billion to our economy. When we don’t invest in women’s health, we’re leaving money and innovations on the table.

WAM: What do we need to do to address this gap as quickly as possible?
Katie Schubert: Every stakeholder has a crucial part to play in closing the research gap, and collaboration is so important. Here at SWHR we’re focused on science, policy, and education – working with experts to create resources for providers, policymakers, and patients alike. Our partners like WAM are focused on advocacy, awareness, and research – pushing forward the conversation and research results in women’s health.

But there’s always more to be done. More and prioritized funding for women’s health research is a big piece of the puzzle. In many cases, this means passing policy to more consistently appropriate funding (from government groups like the NIH and elsewhere) directly to women’s health. Addressing access to trials and treatment is also crucial – making sure women and their providers are educated, equipped and empower to understand the research and care opportunities available to them. Finally, ensuring women are represented in science and medicine across the board will go a long way in closing the research gap. Women tend to study topics and develop treatment for other women, so including more women in the scientific workforce at all levels is key.

WAM: In addition to data on women, we’re also missing medical research on people of color. Why is diversity in research so important?
Katie Schubert: Diversity in research is important because it ensures results can be authentically applied to the groups at risk. We know health disparities exist, so research must be inclusive, responsive, and accessible for each community to truly achieve health equity. We at SWHR are invested in improving health outcomes and increasing health equity for women across the United States, regardless of age, race, ethnicity, and geographic location. In this effort, we launched the Women’s Health Equity Initiative in 2022 to highlight data and identify solutions to improve health equity across the lifespan.

WAM: Are there any recent milestones that give you hope that we can achieve equity in health research?
Katie Schubert: There’s been so much growth in women’s health research and health equity, and there’s so much that I’m hopeful about. Some recent milestones we’re especially excited about here at SWHR include:

  • Ongoing meeting and reports from Task Force on Research Specific to Pregnant Women and Lactating Women (PRGLAC), created in 2016 to identify gaps in knowledge and research on safe and effective therapies for pregnant women and lactating women.
  • Growing inclusion of women in clinical trials: in 2019, women made up 72% of study participants for FDA-approved new drugs (up from 40% in 2015).
  • Introductions of women’s health specific legislation to advance funding and research, such as the Endometriosis CARE Act of 2022, the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Uterine Fibroid Research and Education Act of 2021, and the Menopause Research Act of 2022.
  • Hosting conversations and other collaborative efforts with WAM and like groups to change the conversation surrounding women in mid-life and aging

WAM: In 2016 the NIH implemented a policy mandating that scientists consider sex as a biological variable in animal and human studies. What changes in the field have you seen since then? Is this policy enough to fix the problem?
Katie Schubert: Policy is a huge piece of the puzzle of closing the research gap, but not the only way progress is made; we all have a role to play. I’m excited to see a day when including women in research is not an afterthought but instead common practice that does not require investigators to justify their lack of consideration of sex differences, when women’s health funding reflects the size of the population affected and scope of the public health problems, and when the research gap is closed – all part of a future that makes women’s health mainstream.