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Opinion: How to Attract and Retain Women in STEM

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Throughout the summer, I have written several posts about women in engineering and STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics); one of my posts, “Happy Women in Engineering Day” is about my perspective of being a woman in a male-dominated field. Another post is “Why Do Women Quit Engineering?: From the perspective of a woman in engineering.” And several posts on my interest in technology, speaking out as a woman in STEM, include: “The Sun, The Future, and Indium Corporation”, “How my Passion for Interferometry Compares to my Indium Corporation Experience,” and my most recent, “A New Space Race: Gravitational Waves.”  I believe I am proof, along with the other women engineering interns at Indium Corporation, Lindsay Cannistra and Jamie Schwab, that it is possible to attract and retain women in the engineering field.

To encourage more female growth in these fields, I have some advice.

To prevent a minority of women in STEM fields, girls need to be given the motivation at a young age to get involved with STEM. People will never forget their first dream job as a child and it will stick with them forever. Young girls and boys need to be taught that there are no such things as gender roles whether or not it’s the truth. The only way to get over gender roles is to believe that there are no gender roles at all. If society can get a whole generation to be naïve of gender roles, then gender roles become nonexistent. Girls also should be taught how to be more competitive. I believe this is what got me to where I am today. I played many sports growing up which gave me the confidence and the perseverance to be the best. Boys already have a natural instinct for competition which in my opinion is why they have the most success. If girls are taught to be more competitive, I am certain society would see many more successful females in our world.

My second piece of advice is that the world needs to offer more programs dedicated to females in STEM. Programs like the APS Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics, Women in Engineering ProActive Network, and Association for Women in Science are great examples of ways to encourage young women and girls to pursue STEM careers. The point of these programs is not only to inform young women and girls about STEM, but also to show them that there are successful females in the STEM world and, hopefully, inspire them to be successful as well. By attending these programs, girls and young women can find role models or mentors to look up to in these fields. Not only do these programs attract females to STEM fields, but they also help to retain women that are already in STEM fields. Both times that I attended the APS Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics were a reminder of the difference I can make in the world in that I can be a role model or mentor to younger women and girls and, hopefully, attract them to STEM fields. When I listen to the speakers at these conferences and hear their stories, it shows me that if these women can do it then so can I. I want to be the same inspiration to young females.

Finally, if society is lucky enough to integrate more intelligent women into STEM fields, the most important thing to remember is that female workers do not want to be treated differently than male workers. For as long as we have studied STEM, we have struggled to convince people that women are as good as men are. Once we have made it into our careers, we just want to be treated as equals. We want to get our hands dirty; we want to challenge ourselves; we want to be successful. What we don’t want is to be constantly reminded that we are different. Whether it’s being assigned easier tasks or even just being talked to differently, it may often feel like a constant reminder that we are always being noticed for being different due to our gender.

I believe that gender is not important compared to knowledge and ambition. Society needs to realize that by consistently allowing females to feel this way about STEM, the issue of gender diversity will never improve. In my eyes, it is all in the approach of how to attract and retain women in STEM fields. I believe in the very near future, we as a society will achieve this goal of gender diversity in STEM fields.