Nov 04, 2011 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
The number of women who work in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields in the U.S. is discouragingly low, and yet the jobs and opportunities in the fields abound, the salaries are high and there is a typically smaller gender pay gap, said Dr. Julie Shimer, CEO of Welch Allyn, speaking at a recent meeting of the Skaneateles area branch of the American Association of University Women.
“One of my passions is to encourage women to dream big dreams themselves and work to achieve them,” Shimer told the audience of more than 50 women, including 11 students, grades 8 and higher, from the Skaneateles district.
In her talk, “Women in STEM: A Personal Perspective,” Shimer explained her personal background, education and job experiences as an engineer, and then went through a number of demographics of women in STEM careers as a way to expose and encourage audience members to take a serious look at working in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields.
Shimer’s passion for engineering began as a child when she discovered and read a series of books by General Electric written to encourage young children to enter engineering fields. Unfortunately, her school years being in the 1950s and 1960s, she ran into many obstacles along the way.
“I can’t tell you how many times teachers told me: women don’t go into engineering,” Shimer said, which, she added, only increased her determination to succeed in her chosen field.
After achieving her bachelor’s degree in physics and her master’s and doctorate degrees in electrical engineering, Shimer worked for a time in electronics research before transitioning into the business side of her field. She worked in leadership positions at major companies such as AT&T, Motorola and Bethlehem Steel, ultimately becoming the first female CEO of Welch Allyn in 2007.
“I’ve had a diverse and rewarding career, and my engineering education has served me well,” Shimer said. “I often wonder why more women are not in STEM-related jobs.”
For the second perspective her talk, Shimer discussed the demographics of women in STEM, showing numerous charts and graphs on the topic from the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Basically, women are underrepresented in STEM jobs, Shimer said. Statistics show that while college-educated women are increasing their presence in the U.S. workforce, the number of women in STEM jobs has remained the same — 24 percent — during the past decade.
The number of women entering the computer science and math fields has actually decreased three percent since 2000, while women in engineering has increased 1 percent. “These are kind of discouraging statistics, from my viewpoint,” Shimer said.
Generaly, however, statistics show that women in STEM jobs are satisfied and tend to stay in those jobs; STEM-related graduate degrees open numerous doors to advanced careers; STEM jobs grow three times as fast as non-STEM jobs in the U.S.; and the pay for STEM careers is significantly higher (30 percent) than most non-STEM careers. “If you really want a practical reason to do it, that would be a reason,” Shimer said. “Bottom line: you can earn a lot of money.”
Statistics show also that while the gender pay gap still exists in STEM fields, it is smaller than in non-STEM fields: 7 percent in engineering, 8 percent in physical and life sciences, and 12 percent in computer sciences and math.
It was the gender gap issue that resonated with the talk attendees — specifically with the students.
“It was very interesting,” said eighth grader Benny Herbst. “I didn’t know there was such a big difference in the gender gap. It actually makes me want to get into a STEM career even more.”
“The gender gap almost makes me angry,” said Emily Norris, also in eighth grade. “I thought that was a thing of the past.”
Herbst and Norris’s seventh grade science teacher, Lisa Kerr, who brought four eighth graders to the event, said she has seen an increase in the number of girls interested in STEM-related classes. In fact, the school science club this year is the largest ever, with two-thirds of the members being girls, she said.
High schoolers Kathryn Magee and Aryn Krebs both were inspired by Shimer’s message.
“I came here with doubts, but now I definitely want to check out technical degrees,” said Magee.
“I was thinking of more of a health career, like a doctor, but now I see more options, more research and technical possibilities,” Krebs said.
After her talk, Shimer chatted with attendees, including all the students. “I’m excited by all the girls interested in going into STEM,” she said. “There were a lot of good questions here today.”
For more information on the local AAUW branch, go to aauw-nys.org/branches.skaneateles.htm.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.