Growing Women’s Representation in the STEM Fields

By Louisa Brown, WIPP Intern

STEM

Science, Engineering, Technology and Mathematics, known collectively as the STEM fields, are some of the fastest accelerating areas in the U.S economy today. Innovations seem to be springing up all around us, and with them new career opportunities that offer high wages and ample areas of growth. When we look to who are filling these jobs, however, the results are troubling. According to the new report from the American Association of University Women, titled Solving the Equation: The Variables for Women’s Success in Engineering and Computing, only 12% of engineers are women, and women make up only 30% of computing professionals.  Although women are gaining ground in the science and mathematics fields, they are still falling behind in engineering and technology, the fields which have the highest number of opportunities and offer the highest return on investments.

So, why is this happening, and what can we do about it? In a virtual Town Hall meeting today, hosted by the AAUW and STEMconnector®, experts from higher education, industry and nonprofits had the chance to engage with the results of this important report, and discuss the many ways that organizations are already working to advance women in the STEM fields. Christianne Corbett of the AAUW and co-author of the report, started the discussion by advocating for an intersectional perspective which recognizes the ways in which women of color are even more underrepresented in the engineering and computing fields than their white counterparts. Women of all ethnicities, however, are subjected to gender biases and stereotypes that inhibit their ability to obtain and retain jobs in engineering and technology. Such biases and stereotypes are often implicit and culturally ingrained, making them that much harder to confront.

Acknowledging these biases is an essential first step towards equality, for both educators and employers. Rob Denson, of Des Moines Area Community College, highlighted some important ways that colleges and universities are already working with the STEM Higher Ed Council to address biases and better align educational and industry goals. Emphasizing workplace-learning through paid internships and early research experiences are important to retaining women in computer science and engineering majors, while underlining the social impact of such fields helps women commit to these majors and gain access to the career opportunities that come with them.

The virtual Town Hall meeting also included important input from women in the manufacturing, telecommunications and defense industries. Esra Ozer of the Alcoa Foundation, Anne Wintroub of AT&T Aspire and Betty Smith of Lockheed Martin all emphasized the importance of diversity and partnerships in the workplace. A range of educational pathways is essential to creating a representative work force, and strong mentorships give women the professional support they need to succeed in their careers.

Finally, Linda Hallman, the executive director of AAUW provided insight into the Million Women Mentors program which aims to provide women entering the STEM fields with meaningful mentor relationships. This program is just one of the many ways in which organizations across the country are taking tangible steps to improve representation from women in the technology and engineering industries. What are some solutions that you believe can help attract more girls and women into STEM careers?

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