Friday, November 7, 2014

Women and STEM: Changing the World

As with many trends and fads in education, there has been a great deal of breathless handwringing over the lack of women in science, math, engineering, and technology. Could there be more women in STEM? Absolutely.

Rather than worrying about the women who are not in STEM, perhaps we should celebrate those who have been and are in STEM roles and careers. Perhaps that celebration will encourage other women and girls to brave the remaining misogynistic biases and prejudices to follow their heads, hearts, and dreams.

What they face today may be no less cruel than what the STEM pioneers face because the barriers and obstacles can be less obvious. Even so, there is often nothing less satisfying than being able to become a success in something others told you was impossible.

Years and years ago I was working as a bookkeeper for a small software company. I was fascinated by the work they did and started asking a lot of questions. I even took a couple of programming courses to learn more. There was one female programmer on the team; she and I became and still are good friends. But even some of the guys encouraged me and explained some of what they did. Then came the administrative coup and the new president of the company delivered an ultimatum that I could become his administrative assistant or clean out my desk. When I opted to clean out my desk, he told me I'd never be more than an administrative assistant and I should have been more grateful for the opportunity. Fast forward only a few years when I attended a company picnic, invited by my friends who still worked there, and got to talk with that now more humbled and wiser president as a programmer/systems analyst for a much larger company. We just chatted, but he acknowledged my success with grace.

When I think honestly about it, I might never have taken that path had he not delivered that ultimatum. And when I think more honestly about it, the biggest challenges were from other women who seemed to be threatened or intimidated by me. I never let the guys who made "little lady" comments bother me because that just fueled their comments.

We need to continue to celebrate the women who influenced changes in STEM.  We need to talk about the women in STEM--not just the prejudices they encountered and the setbacks they should not have experienced--but the work they did, the breakthroughs for which they were responsible, and their dedication to the spirit that drove them to persevere.

We should be inspired and moved by the women who did and those who continued to do.

We should continue to encourage and provide support for those women and girls who face setbacks, prejudices, and obstacles that should not be part of their lives in 2014 but are. These are the women who will continue to change the world.

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