At the Honors Colloquium on Tuesday, Nov. 6, author and engineer Pamela McCauley talked about women and their various successes in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) field.
McCauley has years of experience in the STEM field and is an internationally recognized Industrial Engineering researcher in the development of mathematical models, human engineering and engineering leadership. She has made a lifelong commitment as a STEM education advocate, leadership for women in STEM and enhancing diversity and inclusion.
During her presentation, McCauley discussed representation, leadership, innovation and transformation regarding women in STEM, stressing the importance of attracting and retaining women in STEM careers.
She began the colloquium by sharing a statistic: only 13 percent of women are in engineering.
“More of us need to talk about this [statistic] because this really matters,” McCauley said. “Women in STEM really matter and we need more. It is a national imperative that we need all students, especially women that are in underrepresented minorities, to be looking at STEM careers.”
According to McCauley, diversity is critical in STEM. She emphasized the importance of getting other people involved in the solution for encouraging and empowering women and minorities to go into STEM fields, not just those directly affected by the problem.
“It is essential that we have a diverse team,” McCauley said. “We keep talking about it and putting money behind it, but it’s not changing fast enough. We all have to be part of the solution, not just women, minorities, and people with disabilities.”
McCauley shared that 84 percent of working professionals in science and engineering in the United States are white or Asian men and there has been a 12 percent drop in number of computer science degrees earned by women in the United States since 1991.
The next main segment discussed how women feeling unimportant, undervalued, isolated and reduced to a stereotype are among the causes that women either don’t pursue a STEM career or leave the field.
“Female students fear their poor performance might confirm the stereotype that women are not qualified for engineering,” McCauley said.
According to McCauley, systemic changes are needed. Among these changes, McCauley detailed that there needs to be a reduced stereotype in universities and high schools, and companies and classrooms need to research biases that prevent women and girls from getting ahead.
According to McCauley, getting more women involved in STEM is something that benefits the field and society as a whole.
”Retaining women in STEM is everyone’s concern, it gives us a larger talent pool, which improves the quality of the stem workforce,” McCauley said. “Diversity offers broader and better perspectives.”
McCauley said that research has found that women are more likely than men to prioritize communal goals, such as work in which there is an impact for societal good. She said that In order for there to be change, people need to speak up and speak out.
”When you are in an environment when you see bias or you see unfairness or you see practices you know are not healthy when it comes to gender and equity in STEM,” McCauley said. “We have to be bold enough to speak up because if we don’t, nothing will change. Even if it’s not affecting you, it’s affecting another human life you have a responsibility to say something.”
McCauley highlighted her own experiences to demonstrate the importance of perseverance and staying motivated by having a personal mission statement that consists of actions that you will follow to achieve your vision.
”I cannot tell you how many times when I have been in difficult situations, looking back on my vision statement, this is what matters to me,” McCauley said. “When I felt isolated being the only black woman on campus getting her Ph.D. in engineering, that’s what kept me motivated.”
McCauley closed the colloquium with encouraging statements about staying in the STEM field and encouraging one another.
”We are in this together,” McCauley said. “We need you graduated, we need you to understand how valuable you are, and we need you to stay in the field because there’s so much that needs to be done and you have such a great career ahead of you. We need to know that as slowly as change is happening, it is happening.”