Lately, women have been making a push to be more included in disciplines that were traditionally dominated by men, like engineering and technology. Two recent stories have showcased this drive.
Mattel just announced Barbie’s 125th and 126th careers. The toy company, based in El Segundo, California, let voters choose the 125th career of the versatile doll. The winner was News Anchor Barbie, but when votes poured in from all over the world for Computer Engineer Barbie, Mattel couldn’t pass up the opportunity to use this as Barbie’s 126th career. Mattel designers worked with the Society of Women Engineers and the National Academy of Engineering to produce a doll that has a binary code design on her shirt and a laptop—pink, of course. The doll also comes with a special code that unlocks career-themed content online.
Another step taken to promote engineering and computer careers to young females is through the Girl Scouts. The University of Maine hosted girls from various troupes to teach them about opportunities in electrical and computer engineering. Though not for a merit badge, the day allowed the girls to consider future careers in the field.
For young women and girls interested in STEM subjects and careers, learning about science, technology, engineering and math opportunities can be as simple as doing an internet search.
According to today’s educational advice column in the Detroit Free Press, using a search phrase like, “science and math summer enrichment,” plus your town, is a great first step when looking to enhance your STEM credentials.
Through their solar suitcases, the We Care Solar Club of Elk Grove, California is reaching out to the developing world.
Hal Aronson and his wife, Dr. Laura Stachel launched the solar suitcase program through their charity Women’s Emergency Communication and Reliable Energy. When high school engineering teacher, Tim McDougal attended a “solar schoolhouse” given by Aronson, he was convinced the suitcases would be a perfect engineering project for his class.
In turn, the students, hoping to make a difference, have taken on fund raising in addition to suitcase construction. They have raised money for and built two suitcases so far. The first will be sent to the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico next week.
Teacher, McDougal hopes to see the program in all Elk Grove schools next year and Dr. Stachel said a group of students in Colorado is also planning to join the project.
Women at the middle level of their high-tech careers are extremely valuable to their organizations, but new research indicates that this seems to be the very point at which they face the greatest barriers to advancement.
According to “Climbing the Technical Ladder: Obstacles and Solutions for Mid-Level Women in Technology,” 29% of women are planning to leave their mid-level positions at high-tech companies in the next 12 months and pursue alternative options. The study, conducted by the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology in conjunction with the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University, is available at http://www.anitaborg.org/news/research.
Climbing the Technical Ladder provides an in-depth look into the barriers to retention and advancement of technical women and provides solid recommendations to high-tech companies on how to overcome these barriers. The study examines technical women at mid-level ranking because it is a critical juncture for both women on the technical ladder—a complex set of gender barriers converge at this point—and the high-tech firms that employ them. While most high tech companies do recognize the benefits of diversity, gender disparity in technical jobs remains glaringly obvious as very few women reach top technical positions such as Technology Fellow or Vice President of Engineering. Indeed, the report finds that men are 2.7 times more likely to be in a high-level position than are women, and that women comprise an increasingly smaller proportion of the workforce at every level of the technology corporate ladder.
“Studies have shown that, for a variety of reasons, workforce diversity boosts a company’s bottom line,” states Dr. Caroline Simard, director of research for the Anita Borg Institute and co-author of the study. “This fact, combined with the lower number of men and women entering technical fields, makes it critical for high tech companies to focus on eliminating the barriers to retention and advancement of their technical women.”
The study found that some of these barriers to advancement include the following:
• Women are more likely than men to perceive the workplace as a competitive culture and do not believe it’s a meritocracy.
• Technical women in management positions are perceived as less technically competent than their male counterparts, creating an environment where women are viewed (and can view themselves) as “not fitting in”.
• Mid-level women are more likely than men to believe that extended work days are a requirement for success, which may lead to the perception among women that those who cannot regularly stay late are less likely to advance.
• While both men and women value family, men are nearly four times more likely than women to have a partner who assumes the primary responsibility for the household and children. The report shows that 34% of mid-level technical women have deliberately delayed having children to achieve career goals.
• Women are more likely than men to suffer poor health due to excessive work related stress, and over 68% report limiting their amount of sleep to achieve their career goals.
While the study shines a bright light on the barriers to advancement for mid-level technical women, it also offers recommended solutions for companies who wish to retain and advance technical women. Some of the recommendations include:
• Investing in professional development is the most profitable step high-tech companies can take to advance technical women and retain all technical talent.
• Offering flexibility in work schedules is essential for retaining mid-level women who often face unique work/life challenges.
• Providing a diverse leadership team is essential to foster a culture that values diversity. Companies can demonstrate their dedication by increasing the female representation on their board of directors and other leadership entities.