The Challenges and Opportunities of Women in STEM

By: MacKenzie Moore

I sat in my high school government class discussing roles in the family. Admittedly, my mind was wandering but I quickly snapped back to attention when I heard my classmate say “Its the man working and making money and the woman doing house stuff” and watched the heads of nearly half my class–male and female–nod in agreement. With the utmost respect for stay at home moms and women who do not work, I personally want to work and was furious that “doing house stuff” was the only thing my classmates thought women were qualified to do.

Just a few months later, I started interning for Million Women Mentors, building a movement to find mentors for 1 million girls and young women going into the science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) fields. I was introduced by Gail Fierstein, board member of NPower, to the Athena Factor 2.0 published in February of 2014 by the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI). The CTI found 80% of women working in Science, Engineering, or Technology (SET) love their work. Yet, one in three women in SET are likely to quit their job within one year. Their reason? “Hostile macho cultures, isolation, scarcity of effective sponsors and difficulty with executive presence.”

The challenges women face in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics is not solely a male vs. female issue. In fact the Athena Factor even points out that a woman will no longer be the lone female on a team but “they still feel excluded from ‘buddy networks’ among their peers and lack female role models.” They need the support of a mentor or sponsor. Mentorship, supporting a woman in her endeavor and sponsorship, championing a woman for jobs, promotions, and opportunities fights the isolation and gives women the support they need to survive and thrive in the STEM world. The Athena Factor found that “women with a sponsor are 70% more likely to have their ideas endorsed, 119% more likely to see them developed, and 200% more likely to see them implemented” which demonstrates the immense impact mentorship and sponsorship can have in the lives of women. These women need someone on their side, they need someone rooting for them, guiding them, and standing up or them in the professional world.

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