University of Kansas Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little is clear on this: You can’t expect young women to suddenly jump toward STEM careers after they enter college. The interest and preparation must be cultivated earlier.
By DIANE STAFFORD
The Kansas City Star
Gray-Little headlined a panel discussion Tuesday at the Central Exchange, a professional networking organization for women that has launched “STEMM,” an initiative to focus on promoting jobs in science, technology, engineering, math and medicine.
Joined by Kris Paper, director of information technology at Burns & McDonnell, and Jennifer Lindsey, director of marketing at DuPont Nutrition and Health, Gray-Little summarized the exceedingly slow growth in female participation in those male-dominated industries.
Some levels of representation haven’t changed much in 40 years, she said.
Gray-Little said the dearth of women wasn’t quite as big an issue in medicine, but that in the four other fields, the nation and society at large were hurt by under-representation of women.
All three panelists were blunt: Exposure to women already in those fields and encouragement to pursue those jobs must start in elementary school. They said those interests must be nurtured by teachers and family, by guest speakers in classrooms, by job-shadowing experiences, and by one-on-one mentoring.
Gray-Little said STEM workplace environments in some instances continued to be “hostile” to women and that women themselves sometimes weren’t supportive of each other.
Paper and Lindsey each said it was important to pursue one’s interests and abilities, and then help create welcoming environments for others.
Paper said she grew up liking math and problem-solving, and that the IT field was a natural progression. Lindsey said she was a “Nova” science program watcher from an early age, and the field of food nutrition married several of her interests.
Both said it’s important for organizations — schools and businesses — to work hard to recruit and create esprit de corps for women who enter male-dominated STEM careers. That esprit must include men as well, they emphasized.
And don’t overlook that there’s a shortage of American men in STEM fields as well, Gray-Little said.
The Central Exchange initiative, which will include a series of programs, is sponsored by the Spencer Reed Group staffing company with support from KCNext, a regional technology council.
To reach Diane Stafford call 816-234-4359 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.