As the father of two young girls, I often think ahead to what fields my children might pursue in their professional careers. Since my own career is devoted to high-tech media, I naturally think about the world of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and wonder if it’s a path I would recommend to my daughters.
Some of the gender statistics on careers in IT, for example, are still depressing. Women make up half the U.S. workforce but only 25 percent of the technology industry.
Yet in recent months, there is some promise and a surge of hope. I was encouraged when Meg Whitman was named CEO of HP last September and when, three months later, Ginni Rometty became the first female CEO of IBM. And there seems to be even more momentum building in naming prominent women CIOs.
As Bloomberg reported in February, the database of Fortune 500 CIOs maintained by Boardroom Insiders shows women fill 48 CIO spots at Fortune 250 companies, which works out to 19.2 percent. Indeed, some of the most prominent CIO posts in the business world are filled by women, such as Kim Hammonds at Boeing, Adriana Karaboutis at Dell, Karenann Terrell at Wal-Mart, Karen Austin at Pacific Gas and Electric, Carol Zierhoffer at Xerox and Charlene Begley at GE.
But keeping up this kind of momentum means more women must enroll in college-level STEM courses. Since peaking at around 30 percent in the late 1980s, the portion of engineering schools’ undergraduate degrees that go to women has fallen to 18 percent–a 15-year low, according to the American Society of Engineering Education.
The American Association of University Women (AAUW) compiled some compelling evidence about this STEM shortfall among women scientists and engineers in a 2010 study entitled “Why So Few?” Their findings centered on three core areas: social and environmental factors shaping girls’ interest in math and science; the college environment itself; and the continuing impact of gender bias. It’s a powerful report and well worth reading. One of the AAUW’s recommendations is to expose girls to successful female role models in these fields.
I offer the names listed above as encouraging examples of why STEM can be an incredibly good career choice for women.