I found myself astounded a couple of years ago when I volunteered to speak to a science and engineering summer camp group of middle school-aged girls. One of the girls asked me to describe how difficult it is to work in an environment with only men. The “only men” reference surprised me coming from a group this young. I realized I had an opportunity to influence this group of young ladies and the parents and teachers who were standing in the back of the room.
I believe gender socialization still plays a significant role in how women view STEM disciplines in education and as a career path. The fears of acceptance expressed by the young ladies in the room were genuine and concerned them greatly.
I told them my story starting from the age of ten, when I discovered my passion for wanting to know how things worked and about all of the people, both men and women, who supported my learning and encouraged me to pursue my passion. I shared the wonderful experiences I’ve had in my career at Energizer, and the bosses, coaches, and mentors who encouraged me to solve difficult problems that inspired me to take on even greater challenges. My approach to challenge their assumptions and give them a picture of “this is what an engineer looks like” is only a small step in changing the mindset that engineering is a place where women are not welcomed.
Women leaders in STEM fields can encourage participation of women to pursue STEM education through outreach. I hope that by telling my story, as I have done with many groups over the years, I am giving someone else the encouragement to pursue their passion. It’s easy to get involved in your own community and there are some great organizations that have missions to provide outreach in STEM fields. The energy I invest is more than returned to me in the goodwill feelings of making a difference.
Companies and organizations that recognize women leaders in STEM disciplines are helping to create role models that can over time change the perceptions of women which may otherwise deter young women from pursuing a STEM education. They should be commended.
Looking back on my decision to pursue my passion, I’ve been inspired by many individuals. I feel a great sense of gratitude and responsibility to pay it forward.