Women Who Inspire

STEM: Science Technology Engineering and Math, why do we have so few girls who go on to succeed as women in these areas of study?

We started out as half the class, and even throughout college and graduate school many of my classmates were women. I’ve been thinking that STEMs need not just freedom, but also light and food to grow, and this holds for both little boys and little girls.

For me as a woman in science, things changed dramatically when my colleagues, advisors, and thesis committee members realized I was going to be a mother and was going ahead with having a family. I was exceptionally thin so it took them a while to catch on to the idea. It’s an odd reflection on Mother’s Day, that mothers are not really universally welcome, not in the academic world in the US anyway.

I was denied my degree, and got everything from “we’ll have to see how you feel after you have the baby” to “we have to question your commitment to science now”. It all sorted out later after I published my research, when the degree was granted and I went on in genetics research. But this was Cold Spring Harbor in New York, late 1980’s, it was a haven for geniuses, not such a great place for new moms.

What can we do to help both our girls and boys in STEMs grow up as fast and strong as bamboo?

Here’s a bit of food for thought I wish I had then, but am grateful to see now. On May 5th 2011 in London, inspirational women in science, engineering and technology received awards from the Royal Academy of Engineering. I was so happy to see a light shine on their successes.

Their words of wisdom and experience:

‘The opportunities to be innovative and creative are everywhere you look.’ –Cary Marsh, Innovation & Entrepreneurship in Business and Industry Award.

‘It is a privilege to be able to spend my working life in activities that I truly enjoy.’ –Eileen Ingham, Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Academia and Research Award.

‘Don’t be put off if you’re surrounded by a sea of male faces; you’re just as good and have as much to offer as the men.’ –Athene Donald, Lifetime Achievement Award.

‘Don’t be discouraged by failure: every success is built on many failures.’ –Phebe Mann, Tomorrow’s Leader Award.

‘Employers need to provide a flexible working environment where there is equal opportunity for women to advance to the highest level.’ –Dervilla Mitchell, Inspiration and Leadership in Business and Industry Award.

‘With an engineering or science career you can really make a difference to the world.’ Ann Dowling, Inspiration and Leadership in Academia and Research Award.

‘Encouraging young people to consider pursuing science, technology, engineering and maths can change their lives. I am so lucky to be in a position to have that kind of influence’. Kate Bellingham, Communicating Science, Engineering and Technology to Society Award.

For more on their achievements and exceptional portraits in the accompanying article, please see: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/gallery/2011/may/06/women-outstanding-achievement-awards-2011#

Who has inspired you in science, engineering, technology or math?

Please join the discussion, and help shine a light for our STEMs to grow.

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