What can be done to increase diversity in STEM fields?
Increase resources in public schools for all children. During the time I’ve spent volunteering with Sandia’s STEM Program (MANOS), I’ve observed a big gap between the types of resources some children have access to in terms of computers, books, pens & pencils, and intellectual stimulation. While their experiences ranged from experiencing parental incarceration to traditional families, all of these children had immense curiosity. I believe it is our job as adults to nurture that curiosity, not only by financial means, but by giving our time to introduce a child to the wonders of science and math. Beyond these activities, I think just normalizing post-secondary education as something attainable will help many children. If one grows up thinking of college or vocational school as completely unattainable or too outside the norm, it stunts what one may try to achieve. A lot of people are only aware of the vocations they are surrounded by on a daily basis. I’ve found value in just helping kids to brainstorm about all the careers that are STEM-related and emphasize that it is not about committing to one path but about making sure you have the tools (foundation in STEM) so that one has the opportunity to make choices later on when it is time to choose a career.
What can be done to move women forward in STEM?
I’m again going to emphasize mentoring. I had great mentors who took the time to explain very basic things. Things maybe others take for granted, such as salary negotiations, asking for raises, asserting leadership, switching between leading and teaming, and knowing when it is time to push for more responsibility. My mentors were extremely valuable in learning the nuances of professional engagement in the STEM world and these are skills not often developed in school. I think by helping women engage with mentors at various stages of their career, we could attract and retain more women in STEM fields.
Where do you see women in STEM in five years?
I think in five years we will see more women and women of color in leadership positions. Over the years, I’ve observed female representation increasing at professional gatherings. However, this varies by discipline or event. I was recently at an international scientific conference where I counted 15 women attendees out of 200+ participants. We have work to do. I am hopeful for the future because as women take on leadership positions, we gain the power to influence and help build diversity in representation at every level of professional engagement.