In the first eighteen years of my life, not once did I consider becoming an engineer. Despite showing an early aptitude for science, my perceptions around women in engineering precluded my mind’s eye from seeing a career in STEM as the right fit. Unfortunately, my story is not unique amongst women. Although engineers generally have financial security, fulfilling work, and are in high demand around the world, women have been unable to take full advantage of the opportunities this field has to offer. According to the American Society of Engineering Education, only 20% of the engineering degrees awarded annually in United States are earned by women.
Guided by six years of experience in STEM education programming, I served as the Outreach and Education Committee Chair of the nonprofit organization, Women in Science Portland from 2020 to 2022. From wage negotiation bootcamps to lunch-and-learn events, our organization offers programs related to career development, networking, advocacy, and outreach for women in STEM. Our newest outreach initiative, “STEMpowerment,” allows our volunteers to facilitate engaging experiments with children and provides students with the chance to connect directly with female STEM role models.
While outreach programming is an effective way to spark interest for STEM in the minds of young women, it is crucial that we also address the sociocultural barriers that effectively isolate girls from these careers. I have presented to numerous professional and school-based groups across the state to share my experiences as a female engineer and facilitate discussions about the implicit biases we hold against women in engineering. By learning how to identify biased behaviors and deconstruct commonly perpetuated stereotypes, we can change them.
I have spent years advocating for this cause because I want to be the person I needed when I was younger. I often think about how many girls will go through their educations without being encouraged to consider every possibility for their futures, or who will feel discouraged by a lack of support. It is my goal to ensure that the next generation of female scientists and engineers will not need to overcome the barriers that I did. There is a place for women in engineering—and it isn’t just at the reception desk.