Helping women thrive in STEM positions
Have you taken inventory of your coworkers recently? And have you noticed the lack of women, and specifically women in leadership roles within the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (or STEM) fields? Why is that?
To me, the definition of a leader is someone that looks at the big picture, takes action, guides and directs a group and is strong enough to stand alone in the decision making process. Women by nature are born leaders. We are taught at a young age to think of others and take on responsibility. There are plenty of highly respected women leaders throughout the world; however, there needs to be more women leaders in STEM. As Harry Truman once said, “Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”
It is important for more women to take on leadership roles in the STEM fields. Women leaders can attract and, as mentors, help guide more women toward rewarding careers in these fields. The value of mentorship is immense. Finding a mentor early on can do wonders for building confidence and adding to one’s job satisfaction. The people who we choose as mentors need to have the capacity and capability to lead us toward success. A mentor is not only someone who is willing to take the time to teach us techniques and processes but also someone who takes an interest in our longterm advancement. Because this person can see one’s potential, a mentor is willing to go beyond job duties and put in the extra work to ensure that we gain the understanding that is needed to progress.
Women need to be confident in their abilities before anyone else will be. If not, women will be unable to prove to others that they are capable of a role that they have been hired to fill. A women’s confidence is her lifeblood. Without it, women begin to second guess that the right decisions were made regarding their careers, which, in turn, inhibits them from making clear choices moving forward.
Maintaining confidence at all levels throughout your career is important, especially as a leader. Showing a lack of confidence helps others buy into the notion that women do not belong in the STEM fields. Showing someone that we are capable and confident in our work speaks much louder than words. By constantly performing our jobs at a high level, we will prove our abilities and help build our own confidence.
For me, my biggest confidence builder has been the Entrepreneurs’ Organization. The relationship that I have with this group of peers means the world to me. I know that if I am ever in doubt, they can help me confront the issue and move forward in a positive and confident manner.
Women are gaining numbers in traditionally male-dominated fields but we are still significantly outnumbered in STEM occupations. Getting talented women into male-dominated careers is one struggle, while keeping them is another. The issue is especially apparent in STEM careers, which is extremely important to the global economy. Attracting and retaining more women in STEM careers will help tremendously to improve diversity, maximize creativity, and boost competitiveness.
Having people with different mindsets, capabilities, and imaginations on production teams improves the creative process and helps to minimize avoidable mistakes. Products rooted in science and technology are likely to better meet the needs of both men and women if the products are designed by a team comprised of both genders. It is a matter of designing products that are compatible with a broad audience; it is a matter of safety; and it starts with attracting more women into STEM careers.
As a society, we learn about the world and advance our well-being through science and engineering. The United States may be known around the world for its higher education, but compared to many other leading and steadily emerging countries we lack a strong focus on educating scientists and engineers. One significant reason that we have fallen behind is that we do not encourage our female students to pursue career paths in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math. This needs to change, as the lack of women in STEM fields will continue to plague our country until all students, regardless of sex, have adequate opportunities to explore math and science throughout elementary, middle, and high school. If we want to attract the best and brightest minds into the fields that will move us forward, we can no longer look to only half of the population. More women can contribute to our field and we can help make that happen.
As women become more prevalent in STEM careers, more and more young girls will begin to recognize the additional career opportunities open to them. With more women in the field, it will become more evident to young girls what they, as scientists, technology professionals, engineers or mathematicians, can offer the world. Without being able to see this link, they will continue to have problems envisioning certain positions as viable possibilities, even if they have some intrinsic interest in the subject matter. If girls cannot visualize themselves in STEM careers because they have never seen women in those positions, they will be much less likely to ever use their innate aptitudes and abilities in a math or science oriented specialty. That will truly be a loss of gigantic proportion, for our women, our profession and our country.
Karen Purcell, a professional engineer, is the founder and president of PK Electrical, an electrical engineering, design, and consulting firm in Reno. She is the author of “Unlocking Your Brilliance: Smart Strategies for Women to Thrive in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.”
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