Unlocking balance and brilliance in the STEM fields

Ensuring more opportunities for women in STEM careers is essential.

08/14/2012


Purcell is the founder and president of PK Electrical, an electrical engineering, design, and consulting firm in Reno, Nev. She is the author of “Unlocking Your Brilliance: Smart Strategies for Women to Thrive in Science, Technology, Engineering, and MathWomen who choose to follow careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines face unique and frustrating challenges. Even after we establish ourselves in our careers, we continue to encounter potential career-ending traps. Not only do women in STEM careers have higher attrition rates than do their male counterparts—especially within the first 10 years on the job—we also have higher attrition rates than women in other career fields. The general belief that men outperform women in STEM fields is one of the reasons for the high attrition rate. Other reasons include cognitive gender differences, a woman’s lack of interest in the STEM fields, work-life balance issues, and bias. This is an important reality to acknowledge and correct; otherwise, we will never level the playing field. Ensuring more opportunity for women in STEM careers is essential to helping our industries better serve and respond to the needs of humanity.

In the workforce, women have been closing the gender gap in both rate of employment and income nearly year after year. During the recession that started in 2008, when job loss was approaching Great Depression numbers, women held onto jobs at much higher rates than did men. Currently, women in full-time jobs make, on average, 20% less than men do. However, the number of women in the workforce is on the brink of surpassing the number of men for the first time in American history.

Women are gaining numbers in traditionally male-dominated fields, but they are still significantly outnumbered in STEM occupations. Men drastically outnumber women in terms of bachelor’s degrees awarded in STEM fields, which is a direct result of more men enrolling in STEM majors overall. Addressing these problems has been the first step in finding solutions. Getting talented women into male-dominated careers is one struggle, while keeping them there is another. This issue is especially apparent in STEM careers, which are extremely important to the global economy.

Attracting more women to and retaining them in STEM careers will help tremendously to improve diversity, maximize creativity, and boost competitiveness. Women bring a different perspective to the workplace and can help breed creativity in scientific fields that can only expand as broadly as the minds that work within them. The number of women employed in STEM fields has increased over the past few decades, but not at rates that will soon eliminate the male domination in those fields. Gender bias on the job is still prevalent in the workforce, although not in the same overt ways it was in the past. To limit gender biases, employers need to monitor their hiring practices, their work environments, and the ways in which they might be hindering gender diversity.

Possibly more than any other area, the STEM fields will greatly benefit from a more balanced male-to-female ratio. Many jobs within the STEM fields focus on designing products and materials that aim to advance our experiences and allow us to live safer lives. Therefore, it is critical to have a strong female presence to ensure that products and materials are developed to benefit both genders. Without the involvement of women in these fields, product designers may easily overlook needs that are specific to women. Examples of this are evident in the design of past products. For instance, when voice-recognition was first becoming popular, the systems were calibrated to recognize male voices because only males were designing the products. Because of this, women’s voices were unrecognized when they tried to use the various systems.

Having people with different mind-sets, 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 teams comprising both genders. It is a matter of designing products that are compatible with a broad audience. It is a matter of safety too, and it starts with attracting more women to the promise of fulfilling and challenging STEM careers.


Purcell is the founder and president of PK Electrical, an electrical engineering, design, and consulting firm in Reno, Nev. She is the author of “Unlocking Your Brilliance: Smart Strategies for Women to Thrive in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.”



No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
2016 Product of the Year; Diagnose bearing failures; Asset performance management; Testing dust collector performance measures
Safety for 18 years, warehouse maintenance tips, Ethernet and the IIoT, GAMS 2016 recap
2016 Engineering Leaders Under 40; Future vision: Where is manufacturing headed?; Electrical distribution, redefined
SCADA at the junction, Managing risk through maintenance, Moving at the speed of data
Safety at every angle, Big Data's impact on operations, bridging the skills gap
The digital oilfield: Utilizing Big Data can yield big savings; Virtualization a real solution; Tracking SIS performance
Applying network redundancy; Overcoming loop tuning challenges; PID control and networks
Driving motor efficiency; Preventing arc flash in mission critical facilities; Integrating alternative power and existing electrical systems
Package boilers; Natural gas infrared heating; Thermal treasure; Standby generation; Natural gas supports green efforts

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
This article collection contains several articles on the vital role of plant safety and offers advice on best practices.
This article collection contains several articles on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and how it is transforming manufacturing.
This article collection contains several articles on strategic maintenance and understanding all the parts of your plant.
click me