MELBOURNE, Fla. — Bridging the gender gap for women seeking STEM careers is a key focus of International Day of Women and Girls in Science on Thursday, and the career paths of the Brevard Zoo’s Jody Palmer and Lauren Hinson took similar paths to their work at the Zoo.

What You Need To Know

Palmer, who studied psychology with a concentration on animal behavior, is the zoo’s conservation director and leads the nonprofit's efforts on projects involving the Indian River Lagoon, manatee rescues, and international partnerships to protect different animal species.

"Growing up, I always knew I wanted to be in an environmental job," Palmer says.

Hinson, who studied biology and received a master's in animal behavior studies, is the zoo's general curator. She also has the informal title of “zoo mom.”

"Any animals that get rejected by mom, or mom's not totally sure what to do, I end up taking care of," Lauren explains.

They knew breaking into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) careers traditionally dominated by men would be difficult.

According to data from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), less than 30% of the world's researchers are women.

Studies show women in STEM fields publish less, are paid less, and do not progress as far as men in their careers, UNESCO reported.

Palmer and Hinson say young girls should not be discouraged, though.

The gap is slowly closing with more women in these type of jobs, and they advise young girls and women to get an education and work their way up to discover their passion.

"Be persistent," Hinson says. "Keep going, don't get frustrated, you will get there."

Palmer recommends "volunteering your time and getting plugged in with a variety of people."

For them, the people they got to know led them to their passion for animals.​

The need for STEM talent is on the rise, too. According to a University of California San Diego study, the national demand for STEM talent increased 9% from 2016 to more than 11 million jobs in 2018.