Here’s the good news: The push to hire more women in the tech sector has resulted in a rise in the number of women in the workforce.
Here’s the bad news: That rise is beginning to slow.
The truth is, that women are still underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women comprise 39 percent of chemists and material scientists, 28 percent of environmental scientists and geoscientists, 16 percent of chemical engineers, and merely 12 percent of civil engineers.
We can’t strive to become what we don’t see. In spite of the gains of diversity, young women still rarely see successful women role models represented in STEM fields.
We cannot allow our hard-earned gains to recede. A conscious effort still needs to be put forth to show and celebrate more examples of women in the STEM arena. Women (and men) need to demand that women be represented and acknowledged in every facet of our society – from roles in TV shows and movies to classrooms, community groups, and inside laboratories.
Yet, in spite of the progress women have made in STEM, biases continue to push women away from technology-based careers. My goal is to raise awareness and finally erase those biases for good.
In celebration of Women’s History Month, let’s honor four pioneering women who made indelible marks in the crucial areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math:
The Honorable Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D. (1946 – ) – Noted physicist and former head of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Dr. Jackson was one of the first two African American women to receive a doctorate in physics in the United States, and the first to receive a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She continues to work to advance the role of women in science and has led a transformation in her role as President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Time magazine has called her “perhaps the ultimate role model for women in science.”
Rita Rossi Colwell, Ph.D. (1934 – ) – Rita Colwell is one of the most influential and visionary scientists of her generation. She is a microbiologist, marine expert, and internationally recognized authority on cholera and infectious diseases. She pioneered the expanding role of women and minorities in science from Bangladesh to America. In developing countries, Dr. Colwell used “high-tech analyses to produce extremely low-tech solutions.” She taught women a simple, folded-sari-cloth filtration technique of water purification that reduced the incidence of cholera by 50 percent, which resulted in a profound reduction in global mortality.
Sheila E. Widnall, Ph.D. (1938 – ) – A master pilot, astrophysicist, and faculty member of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for over 30 years, Dr. Widnall was the first woman to head a branch of the U.S. Military as secretary of the U.S. Air Force from 1993-1997. She is internationally known for her work in fluid dynamics, and she was elected into the National Academy of Engineering for her engineering accomplishments. She was one of 23 women in the freshman class of 936 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She was the first MIT Alumna to be appointed to the faculty of the School of Engineering and the first woman to serve as chair of the faculty.
Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, USN, Ph.D. (1906 – 1992) – A mathematics genius and computer pioneer, Grace Hopper created computer programming technology that forever changed the flow of information and paved the way for modern-day processing. After teaching mathematics at Vassar College, she joined the U.S. Navy in 1943, where she began her legacy of groundbreaking computer programming at Harvard University. In the late 1950s, she pioneered the COBOL language. Grace retired from the Navy in 1986 as a Rear Admiral, the first woman to hold the rank.
So, here’s the thing: If these women could achieve these extraordinary results under greater scrutiny than women have today — and without nearly the resources at their disposal — then why can’t we?
The truth is we can. But how?
Here are 3 little-known ways women can achieve extraordinary results in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM):
No. 1 – Re-write the Stories
We have accepted every story and every boundary that our cultures, families, and social institutions have told us about “men being naturally better at science, math, and technology.” We’ve heard them so many times throughout our lives that we take for granted they are “the truth.” But, guess what? They’re not. We may not be able to “unlearn” those stories and boundaries, but we can certainly re-write them. What story do you WANT to believe about your potential for greatness and the potential of young women in the world today? Shift your focus on what’s possible and take action from there.
No. 2 – Take action from where you want to be
People tend to take action from where they are in the moment, which can instantly put limits on what they believe is possible. Taking action from where you are now, rather than where you want to be perpetuates small thinking and inaction. What if you decided to take action from the new story you’ve written? Imagine yourself running the engineering department or actually submitting the cost-benefit analysis you spent hours on, which may get you the promotion you’ve been vying for. What could happen if you took action based on where you want to be? This simple mindset shift changes everything.
No. 3 – Strengthen your Sage muscle
In the best-selling book Positive Intelligence, author Shirzad Chamine discusses the “Sage” voice. He contends that this voice is the real you, the wise you. To take action from where you want to be, you’ve got to trust that inner voice. You know the one. She’s the one you probably dismiss as crazy, frivolous, and as the starry-eyed dreamer. This voice knows what you are meant to become and she’s waiting for you. Trust her; trust the woman you know you truly are — the one who is strong in analytics, the one who lights up at solving complex problems and equations. Try to tap into her wisdom on a regular basis. Most women don’t listen to their Sage voices nearly enough.
The lack of women in STEM fields is not something that can be fixed overnight. However, I believe consistently raising awareness and challenging the old belief systems are small steps all women can take to encourage future generations of women to reach for their full potential.
What is one small action you can take today to raise awareness and challenge the status quo? You can support the International Women’s Day #pledgeforparity to “help achieve gender parity more quickly – whether to help women and girls achieve their ambitions, call for gender-balanced leadership, respect and value difference, develop more inclusive and flexible cultures, or root out workplace bias. Each of us can be a leader within our own spheres of influence and commit to taking pragmatic action to accelerate gender parity.”