According to the 2016 National Science Board Science and Engineering Indicators, over 5.7 million college graduates have filled positions in Stem (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields between the years of 1960 and 2013. While the late 80s and early 90s showed an increase in the number of women entering STEM fields, recent reports are showing a decline in certain areas, such as computer science. Overall, the data show under-representation of women in STEM fields, but the gap is beginning to close thanks in part to support from leaders in the public and private sectors.
Michelle Obama delivered a call to empowerment during her first public appearance since leaving the White House, “If we want girls in STEM, we need to rethink how we deliver education.” President Trump recently signed two new bills into law promoting female entrepreneurship and STEM participation. Says Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, “In the future, there will be no female leaders, there will just be leaders.” Support from these leaders is one of the reasons female undergrads are entering STEM fields more frequently, and the percentage of female-invented patents have increased nearly every year since 1980.
At Spinnaker Support, our success is dependent upon a team that is both technically skilled and diverse enough to serve a global client base. We hire the most highly skilled support engineers in their field of expertise. This has enabled the diversity needed to best serve our customers. Our team consists of women and men who work from 7 regional operations centers, speaking 14 languages, covering customers in 102 countries. We recently sat down with a few of our female leaders to discuss their experiences at Spinnaker Support. Below, Carolyn Barr – Senior Technical Support Analyst, Cynthia Hinckley – JD Edwards Managing Consultant, and Daphna Amal – Senior Application Support Consultant, offer advice for young women interested in STEM work, as well as discuss their career trajectory and experiences in the field.
Beginning a STEM Career
Like any career, women end up in STEM jobs through a variety of paths. Current reports show that women have earned 50.3% of bachelor degrees in science and engineering. However, a degree isn’t the only way to get a job in the STEM field.
Both Cynthia and Carolyn transitioned into STEM roles from other positions. Carolyn was working for United Airlines when they introduced their first online reservation system and moved from operations to programming when demand increased. Similarly, Cynthia worked her way from a customer support role for a large software company to being a member of the global IT team.
Other women, like Daphna who is based in Israel, have been interested in working in STEM for as long as they can remember. Daphna says that she has “been interested in mathematics and computers from when [she] was a girl.” In high school, her high school teacher encouraged her to take a university class in computer science. She graduated with a focus on mathematics, computer science, and statistics, and she’s been working in the field ever since.
No matter what path women take to begin their STEM careers, they’ll find a job that requires them to “think outside the box, try things, and play and experiment,” according to Carolyn. If you or someone you know is interested in a career in STEM, there are ample resources available online. If you are looking for resources in your area, Girls Who Code has chapters all over the country, and the Girl Scouts has even started STEM focused programs.
Persisting Through the Gender Gap
While women are still underrepresented in STEM careers, there are signs that the gender gap is closing. In 1993, women only represented 22% of the STEM workforce. However, by 2013, that number had increased to 29%.
Being a minority in the workforce can come with some challenges. One woman we talked to has faced some discrimination over the years. Back in the 1990s, when women in STEM were less common than today, she found that she struggled to have her professional opinion respected.
“There was management in the industry that would ask my opinion, and then ask my male colleagues what they thought to see if our opinions matched. If it didn’t match, they would always go with the male.”
Fortunately, this mindset seems to be less common in the modern-day workforce. Cynthia has worked in male-dominated STEM jobs for her entire career. However, she reports experiencing little discrimination while on the job.
“Most of the time I was the only female in the room,” says Cynthia. “Did I notice that? Yes. Was I treated any differently? No. I feel like we all had mutual respect for the things that we each brought to the table and participated in.”
Despite their personal experiences with gender discrimination, all the Spinnaker Support women attributed their success, in part, to their persistence.
Advising Future Women in STEM Fields
The future looks bright for young girls who are interested in a career in a STEM field. Harvey Mudd College, a top engineering university, reported in 2013 that female engineering students outnumbered males for the first time. Women also accounted for 47% of computer science majors, well above the national average.
As the millennial generation and Generation Z enter the workforce, experts predict that we’re likely to see the number of women working in STEM increase. These generations were raised with computers, which means both genders may equally be interested in and master technical careers.
When asked what advice they would give to young women interested in working in a STEM career, the Spinnaker Support women encouraged girls to pursue their passions.
“I would encourage them to follow their passion because that’s where your success is going to be, regardless of what area of STEM it is,” says Cynthia. “Always know that everything is achievable. It’s just a matter of how much work do you want to put into it to make it happen.”
Carolyn concurs: “I would tell any young girl to find the passion and to go with it, and just to dig in and do it. There’s nothing you can’t do, so try it.”
Passion will take you places. The female leaders at Spinnaker Support agreed that choosing a career should be based on passion and personal interests, not what others feel is best for you or where society says your gender fits in. These ladies are proof that you don’t have to have a college degree or insider connections to make it in science and technology. As the number of women in STEM continues to grow, women will have a larger support system and opportunities to excel in their chosen fields.
If our customers aren’t satisfied neither are we, and the women of Spinnaker Support have always been an integral part of helping our global team provide excellent service to our customers. We are proud to have earned numerous awards in the field including American Business Awards Stevie Gold, 2017 and Top Denver Workplace two years’ running. Connect with us on LinkedIn to stay up to date on the latest software support news and our latest successes.
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