It’s a Great Time to be a Woman in a STEM Profession!

How can I say it’s a great time to be a woman in a STEM profession when according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics – only 10% of engineers are women, or when only 22% of those in technology are women? 

Or you will ask – did you see the article in the NY Times about Elissa Shevinsky describing Technology’s Man Problem

Or how about Julie Horvath who left her position at Github because of sexism and intimidation?

Here is why I think it’s a great time to be a woman in a STEM profession – because there is so much discussion going on these days related to the difficulties that exist in the workplace. And at the same time there is discussion around intentionally changing the STEM cultures so that women can succeed.

My take on the issues described by Ms. Shevinsky and Ms. Horvath is that these circumstances are terrible and should NEVER happen in a workplace.  I applaud both women for standing up and speaking out. I did not have the courage to speak out early in my career.  

In the summer of 1980 I worked as an engineering intern for a steel company in Pennsylvania.  I spent my time working in both the brass foundry and the iron foundry.  The office area in the iron foundry was a big open room where the engineers and administrative staff all sat at those old but reliable grey steelcase desks. It was common to have a clear Lucite sheet to protect the top of the desk.  In the iron foundry office, every single one of these desks had dozens of pictures of naked women under the Lucite.  I remember being embarrassed and uncomfortable with the images as some were disturbing.  But I never said anything.  Instead I would grab a D or E size drawing to cover the images and went about my work as if the images did not exist.


Steelcase desk
Much cleaner than the ones in the iron foundry

Why didn’t I speak up and ask that they be removed?  Well I was the good girl who challenged the norms by becoming an engineer but NOT by speaking up.  I was taught never to question authority, but that I should work hard and deal with what I are given. 

Not only have I changed since 1980 but workplaces have changed dramatically..  My own experiences since then is that this type of behavior would never be tolerated and that gender bias exists in more subtle ways.  But as detailed in the previously mentioned NY Times article, there are some workplaces where it is still okay to be sexist or to objectify women.   What I am hoping is that other women dealing with sexism in the workplace look up to the examples of Ms Shevinsky and Ms Horvath.  If you are in a difficult workplace, speak up and/or walk away.  If necessary contact a a lawyer who specialized in employment law.  No one should have to work in a place where bad behavior is tolerated.

I also know that many companies want to retain their women in STEM.  The managers and HR personnel in these companies know that sexist behavior is not only wrong, it is illegal in the workplace.   

The issue of women persisting in the STEM professions is complex and multi-level.  There are many reasons to persist including the financial aspects. But you cannot love your job as a women in STEM if you are experiencing difficult workplaces.  Speak up and be the spark to change the workplace.  

Here are  two great examples of STEM women that are changing the world with their work.  

Maria Klawe is the president of Harvey Mudd College. She was recently named one of the World’s top leaders by Forbes – number 17 out of 50.  In a recent article in Slate Dr. Klawe discussed her own career in technology.  Additionally Dr. Klawe discusses how an intentional effort including changes in classroom teaching techniques have increased the percent of women graduates in computer science from 10% to 40% in less than 10 years.

Debbie Sterling, an engineer, has created “Goldiblox” as toys for girls that teach building skills.  The new commercial is brilliant as it demonstrates the toys and shows girls how engineering can be a career for them.

Want to love your job more?

  • Speak up if you are dealing with inappropriate behaviors in the workplace
  • Read and learn about other women who are helping women to achieve in the STEM profession
  • Be a woman who helps other women in the STEM professions

As Madeline Albright has said “there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”

It’s a great time to be a woman in the STEM professions!






Stop the Madness!

The Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) released a report this week on the sorry status of women in the SET (Science, Engineering and Technology) professions. The most disheartening aspect of their report is that 31% of senior leaders in SET companies in the US think that women will never get a top position at their company.

I am not sure if this is 2nd generation gender bias as it is so blatant, but I am sure it is gender bias. The CTI says that these senior leaders don’t believe women will make it to the top “no matter how able or top performing”.

Can someone please stop this madness!

The CTI report also discusses how women are more likely than men to leave SET professions.  This is not new information as others have reported this. But what is new is that they quantify the difference – stating that in the US women are 45% more likely than men to leave the SET professions.

According to the research we have done at Case Western Reserve University women’s commitment to their engineering career begins to drop as soon as they enter the workforce.  Looking at the plot below you can see how the drop is steady until about age 40.  This supports the work of other researchers who study women that leave STEM professions and report most will leave before age 40. The plot also shows how career commitment increases as a woman continues her career after age 40.  

Women's Commitment to engineering drops as soon as they enter the profession

Best fit curve for 495 women with engineering degrees

But for men with engineering degrees the curve looks totally different.  Career commitment starts at a steady rate but then continues to increase as age increases.

Best fit curve 135 men with engineering degrees

Best fit curve 135 men with engineering degrees

How to Stop the Madness!
We need an intervention to convince top leaders that women are just as capable as men.   Here is what we can do:
  1. Let’s teach everyone about gender bias and how it is impacting women in the STEM professions. If 31% of the top leaders in industry don’t think women can achieve just because they are women, how can we expect women to be able to achieve?
  2. Let’s help women in the STEM professions develop skills to overcome gender bias in the workplace.  Women need to believe they can succeed, they need to be able to recognize gender bias in their organizations and feel comfortable telling others that they are facing barriers that may be due to gender bias.
  3. Let’s all rally together to change the perception of those top leaders who don’t think we can achieve.

The Leadership Lab for Women in STEM provides professional and leadership development for women in technology-driven, male-dominated organizations.

2nd Generation Gender Bias and How It Impacts Your Ability to Love Your Job More

One of the great things about being part of a university is the ability to continuously interact with the students.  Earlier this week I was asked to be on a panel hosted by the Women’s Science & Engineering Roundtable. The discussion was focused on how women can succeed in STEM professions. Attendees included both undergraduates, graduate students and even a couple of post-docs and other faculty members.

My message was very clear – being a woman WILL impact your ability to love your job in the male-dominated STEM professions.  Gender impacts students as well. Recently the Dean of the Harvard School of Business issued an apology for how the school has treated its female students.

I came across the term 2nd Generation Gender Bias several years ago.  I was happy to see a recent article published by Harvard Business Review September 2013 and a blog posting describing its impact on women leaders.  This same notion of 2nd generation gender bias helps to explain the difficulties women face in  male-dominated science, technology and engineering environments.  If you understand it you can recognize when it is happening and take action to mitigate this type of bias.

What is 2nd Generation Gender Bias?

Researchers Ely, Ibarra and Kolb describe 2nd generation gender bias as powerful and sometimes invisible barriers to women’s ability to achieve in the workplace.  Second generation is used as a way to differentiate this subtle type of bias from the overt workplace barriers that existed in previous generations.  Gender bias comes from individual beliefs and organizational practices that inadvertently favor men.

Individual biases are rooted in one’s culture, upbringing, and life experiences. If you are brave enough to understand your own biases, you can go to Project Implicit.

In my own research I heard hundreds of stories on how organizational practices inadvertently favored men. These included organizational practices such as how promotions are awarded and what types of jobs women were able to obtain.

I can also look back over my career and see how 2nd generation gender bias impacted my ability to love my job more.  For example, there was a time that I was working as an engineering manager for a large multi-national corporation.  I was the only woman on my team.  In this corporation the higher levels jobs were not posted so I was surprised when it was announced that one of my male colleagues “Bob” was being promoted.  Frankly I was shocked, I had a great record of accomplishments, and I had been there longer than Bob.  So I went to my manager and asked why I did not receive the promotion.  My manager said he didn’t know that I wanted to be promoted.  When I asked if Bob had told him he wanted the position, he paused and said – no I guess not. The barrier to my promotion was not my skills or my experience.  It was bias within the organization that only men want to be promoted. How absurd is that!

Often women are not given the “best” assignments and can be relegated to the Velvet Ghetto.  I just read a story about this where a woman was given a mindless summer job while her male colleague was challenged with a terrific summer assignment.

The term Velvet Ghetto is used commonly in gender research and refers to lower positions where women are clustered in organizations. These roles are often times important but lacking the authority and the exposure that line positions offer. Years ago I heard a women from Xerox discuss how quality has becomes a woman’s ghetto.  Since hearing her speak I have witnessed that quality departments often have a high percentage of women technical workers.  I have nothing against quality roles but my own experience as a quality manager was frustrating.  I was responsible for quality but had no authority to change anything except the quality documents.  I was the one who talked with the customers about the issues with the products, knew the root cause of the problems but did not have the ability to change the process to permanently resolve the problems.   I did not last long as a quality manager.

How to Overcome 2nd Generation Gender Bias

  1. Become comfortable with the notion of 2nd generation gender bias. Often times we think we are seeing bias but are not sure.  The more each of us understands bias the more likely we are to overcome it. Researchers Ely, Ibarra and Kolb discuss how we need to educate everyone about 2nd generation gender bias.  Read their article in HBR and others on gender bias.  Have a guest speaker come and talk to your work group.
  2. Tell your managers that you want to be promoted or whatever else you might want.  Don’t make my mistake and think they know what you want.  Be sure to tell them what you want.
  3. Look at your organization – are there clusters of women in one type of job?  Is there a velvet ghetto?
  4. Ask for help. If you think you are experiencing problems due to 2nd generation gender bias – tell someone. Don’t blame yourself and don’t become a victim. Taking action will help you and help others that are likely experiencing the same issues.

The Leadership Lab for Women in STEM provides professional and leadership development for women in male-dominated, technology driven environments.

The Facts about Women in the Technical Professions

Why is there a need for a program focused on professional and leadership development for women working in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)?

Let’s begin with the startling facts:

  • Women remain underrepresented in the STEM professions.  Today women comprise 47% of the labor force, 52% of professional and managers but 45% of scientists, 22% of technology workers, 10% of engineers and 25% of  those in the math professions.
  • 71% of mothers with children under 18 are in the labor force but are concentrated in occupations where average annual earnings are lower than those in the STEM professions.  For example, the average annual salary for a chemical engineer is $94,350 while the same for an elementary school teacher is $53,090 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The chemical engineering profession is about 18% women while 82% of elementary school teachers are women.
  • A deficit of one million STEM workers has been projected by 2022 by The President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology.
  • STEM occupations comprise about 25% of the labor force (US Department of Commerce, 2011) and are growing at faster rates than most other occupations (Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2012).
  • Women with STEM degrees are less likely to work in a STEM occupation than their male colleagues. (US Department of Commerce, 2011)
  • Women leave the STEM professions at higher rates than men according to studies published by the Society of Women Engineers, the Center for Work Life Policy and others.  Women leave these professions because of the lack of advancement opportunities and a difficult work environment (not because they are having babies).

The Leadership Lab for Women in STEM integrates the most recent research with educational programs.  We focus solely on professional and leadership development for technical women.  We are dedicated to understanding the complex factors that allow women to achieve in the STEM professions.

If you want to flourish in a male-dominated, technology-driven environment join us beginning March 27, 2014.


Love Your Job More

Love Your Job More

Leadership Lab for Women in STEM

AND is best!

Ever since the Superbowl there have been hundreds of discussions and blogs about Goldiblox and the lack of women engineers in the Volkswagen commercial. I for one am happy that people are talking about this.

One discussion posted by SWE states Princess or Engineer? Why Not Both? Seems to me as if this is comparing apples to oranges.   Being a princess is a fantasy that draws on images of pagentry, wealth, and entitlement.  Being an engineer is a vocation or a career.  Have you see the Sesame Street on Careers and Princesses?

Children should all be encouraged to fantasize.  I think it is great that young girls fantasize of being a princess.  I too dreamed of being a princess and even today enjoy Disney Princess movies – The Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorites, but I like Frozen – do you wanna build a snowman?

But I think the more appropriate question to ask is:

Can you be feminine AND be an engineer?  Can you be feminine AND be a computer programmer? Can you be feminine AND be a CEO, etc.

Yes –  of course you can be feminine AND have a career in the technical world.

You could also leverage your career as an engineer AND become the CEO of a company like Yahoo.  Have you read about Marissa Mayer? She epitomizes femininity AND is the CEO of Yahoo.  She is an engineer by training and has been in Vogue.  One story about her that I love is that she keeps a spreadsheet for her cupcake recipes.  By the way she also is a mother and a wife.

To Love Your Job More you need to be able to express who you are at your place of work.  I have worked with plenty of women engineers, scientists and technologists who express their femininity at work.  You won’t love your job if you feel as if you cannot express who you are at your place of work.  Let’s change the perception related to technical women.  We are like women everywhere.  Some of us are feminine even “girly-girl”.  Some of us are total opposites but most of us are somewhere in between.

Love your job more by expressing yourself in the way that is comfortable for you.

As my friend Sherry said “AND is best”!




Volkswagen Superbowl Commercial – Why No Women Engineers?

It’s time for the Big Game or more importantly time to watch those phenomenal commercials!  I happened to catch the Volkswagon Superbowl Commercial  as it was released earlier this week.

The commercial begins with a Dad driving with his middle school age daughter.  The dad observes that his Volkswagen just surpassed 100,000 miles.  The daughter’s reaction is “so”.  The dad goes on to say that when a Volkswagen hits “100,000 miles a German Engineer gets his wings”.  The ad goes on to show a number of men dressed in white lab coats sprouting wings.  The ad is funny but why couldn’t Volkswagen show at least one woman engineer?  There is one woman in the commercial, she is wearing a lab coat but she is portrayed as a victim not as an engineer who sprouts her wings.

According to the VDI, The Association of German Engineers women comprise 13% of the engineers in Germany. Here in the USA the numbers are about 1 in 10.  Germany and the USA are dealing with a shortage of engineers.  In fact the President’s Council on Science and Technology estimates that the USA will have a deficit of more than one millions science, technology, engineering and math professions over the next decade.

While I recognize that the commercial is intended to sell the reliability of Volkswagen automobiles (and I do think it is funny), I have to point out this is subtle but very real gender bias.

Many of us are working hard to increase the number of women in engineering and other technical professions.  The subtle message in this ad is that engineers are men.  The really sad thing is that over 100 million people will be watching the Super Bowl and will see the Volkswagen commercial.  Almost half of the viewers will be women.  Many of the viewers will be parents and children.  Each of these people will once again be subtle reminded that engineering is only for me.

Well the good news is that GoldieBlox will have a Super Bowl commercial.  Cannot wait to see that one.

#SuperBowlCommercials  #bethatengineer #LeadershipLabforWomeninSTEM

How to Love Your Job More

We all want to “Love Our Jobs More”.  But women in technical roles face difficulties in the workplace that make their experience different from their male colleagues. Often these difficulties leave women with many questions and no one to ask.  These difficulties impact women’s ability to believe that they can achieve and succeed in technical roles.

A long time ago Henry Ford said “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you are correct”.  I really love this quote.  I think it is particularly important for women in technical roles to recognize how their own thoughts may impact their ability to achieve.  I also think it is important for us to understand why we may think we can or cannot achieve in technical roles.

One thing I often experienced in industry were bosses who were highly critical of me.  If you are like me, you take the criticism seriously, and work hard to please the boss.  But you only get more criticism.

When we have a bad boss who is highly critical of our work we may begin to believe him instead of ourselves.  We begin to doubt that we can achieve.  One of the women I interviewed who left engineering after an 11 year career said that:

“if I had a boss who wasn’t confident in me, who treated me with no respect, then I got into that completely.”

So instead of listening to your boss, especially when you know you are doing a good job at work, find others that find value in the work that you do.  Your teammates or peers are often the ones who are working with you all the time.  They are the ones who you can see more fair and balanced criticism.

The better we understand ourselves the more likely we are to achieve.   I know that sounds so simple but believe me it is true.