There has been much concern over the lack of female involvement in STEM, particularly in the aerospace and defense industry, where innovation and diversity of thought are so critical. Numerous studies have explored the issue, resulting in various programs designed to help address the problem.
Part of the issue is that we’re searching for a single, simplistic answer to a complex question. Research has shown there are a variety of factors that impact a woman’s interest in STEM, including age, environment, family goals, and identity-safety, just to name a few. Treating women as a monolithic group, as if we’re all the same, ignores that we are individuals with different interests, backgrounds, experiences, and goals.
My parents encouraged me from a very young age to try everything. They believed that, over time, I would naturally gravitate toward those things I was most passionate about. From baseball to ballet, and piano to auto mechanics, I did it all. Some activities I hated, but some I loved and still do to this day. I learned to focus on what I was most passionate about, and through that passion I was able to find the kind of rewards and success that motivate me internally. However, that approach may not have the same impact on another female who is motivated differently.
There are numerous reasons why many women choose not to pursue an education or career in STEM, whether it’s because there are fewer female role models in these fields or because a disproportionate share of familial duties still fall on women. This is why a single, uniform program won’t change this situation over the long term. People motivate people, and we need to stop shirking our individual responsibilities and do something about it.
We can all make a personal commitment to helping that young lady sitting in front of us in class, or nervously applying for the job we posted. We need to talk to them and discover how we can help them fulfill their potential. Those of us who have worked hard to get to our positions, regardless of field, should take a moment to reflect on how we got there and who helped us along the way. If we can support, encourage, and mentor just one female in the same way, we can build on what others have done for us and make a positive and lasting impact on someone’s future.