How women are making up ground in STEM industries
By Don Horne
There are major disparities that women and minorities face in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) industries, but one female mechanical engineer is working to create more interest and opportunity in the industry.
According to industry association estimates, females make up only 28 per cent of the workforce in STEM, and males outnumber women majoring in most STEM undergraduate majors.
This statistic drives engineer and STEM advocate Caitlin Kalinowski to be a guiding voice for women and minorities interested in these industries, as she actively promotes more women joining these fields while working as a leader in virtual reality.
“Women entering highly male-dominated places have always had to learn new ways of communicating to be effective. In past roles, I’ve had to learn how to communicate in a masculine culture in ways that I was not socialized for,” says Kalinowski. “Even (STEM) courses for young people use problem sets and projects more appealing to young men, so we need to start at the very beginning to improve diversity.”
Some of the major factors that contribute to lower interest from females and minorities include:
- Gender stereotypes;
- Imposter syndrome;
- Male-dominated cultures;
- Fewer role-models; and
- A lack of confidence girls develop in their own leadership abilities.
The media has an important role to play, says Kalinowski, who believes that constant discussions in the media about how male-dominated STEM fields are, can actually make the problem worse.
By constantly discussing these stereotypes, she says, young girls can develop further insecurities.
Instead, Kalinowski wants the next generation to experience normalcy and confidence in STEM, with fewer gender stereotypes attached.
“I worry about how society talks about STEM and how to get more girls to participate because when one focuses on the gap, girls will internalize it. Be careful not to imply that these are predominantly male areas. Telling your daughter that she’s smart and capable is really important,” she says.
A critical step to help more women and minorities succeed in STEM would be to create greater confidence and interest in STEM in elementary and middle school. Letting college women and schoolgirls know that they have a future in these industries is extremely important, she points out. More importantly, if girls seem hesitant to enter the STEM field, it is imperative they receive positive mentoring before and during employment.
In the short term, it will be important to teach young women and girls to communicate effectively in STEM environments so that they can achieve the same status as men in the fields.
Longer-term, balancing and diversifying the STEM fields themselves will create cultures that are more welcoming to young women and underrepresented minorities.
“Seeing more women in the field can be a source of inspiration. Girls have to be shown what women can do. The key is to foster their drive with mentoring and the opportunity to follow that dream,” says Kalinowski