Representation of women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers has increased significantly in recent years. In fact, the concentration of women working in STEM-related fields was nearly 35% higher in 2017 than it was in 2003.
At Sphero, we celebrate this rise of women in STEM-related careers and encourage young girls to pursue similar passions to further close the gap. We asked our community of Sphero Hero educators for their insights and experiences on being women in the STEM field today and why it’s important to learn about female STEM leaders — here’s what they had to say.
What It Means To Be a Woman in STEM
Julie Wilcott, Education Products Manager at Zspace, tells us, “Being a woman in STEM means working at the intersection of science and technology and working as a minority in the workforce.” In fact, women make up 28% of the overall science and engineering workforce and 60% of the social sciences workforce.
Illinois middle school teacher Hannah Pals provided similar insights, saying, “Knowing that I am only the second female, third overall, in my family that not only holds a bachelor's degree but also a master’s (and one that is in STEM education) reminds me that this is a marathon journey.”
To Hannah’s point, the rate of science and engineering courses taken by women drops off significantly at the higher education level, making her and her predecessors’ accomplishments all the more noteworthy.
Kim Lane Clark, Director of Engagement, also spoke to her experiences overcoming obstacles as a minority in STEM, saying, “Being a woman in STEM means to defy the naysayers. It means to be something that we were told for so long that we couldn't be. As an African American woman, it means to pave the way for brown and black girls that look like me.”
In fact, in 1993, 84% of workers in science and engineering occupations reported their race as white, but by 2015, this proportion had declined to 67%. Today, the STEM workforce is becoming increasingly diverse as leaders like Kim show what’s possible.
Digital technology teacher Paige Besthoff overcame similar obstacles as a woman striving to pursue STEM in the 1970s, a time when about 3% of engineers were women.
“As a teacher of career exploration in high school, I saw firsthand how young women were not directed toward STEM-related careers, so I decided that would be my new mission having experienced how I was not encouraged to pursue my career in science,” writes Paige.
Brandy New also aims to use her role as a teacher to encourage women to pursue STEM careers, explaining, “STEM, to me, means you get to ask all the questions and search for all the answers, and I like sharing that passion with students and teachers in hopes of inspiring them to join me.”
Teachers like Brandy exposing STEM to girls at a young age is crucial, as Girl Scout’s Generation STEM report found that 74% of today’s girls across the country show interest in the field of STEM, but they tend to lose interest in math and science around middle school.
It takes the influence of teachers and strong role models alike to encourage young girls to persevere in their STEM aspirations. Our Sphero community provides further insights on a few females in STEM careers today who are inspiring the next generation of female leaders.
Let’s Celebrate Some of Our Favorite Women in STEM
When it comes to influential women in STEM, Dawn Barry, Karenann Terrell, and Andrea Loubier shine brightly. With years devoted to their respective fields, their deep-seated passions and entrepreneurial spirits have allowed them to become some of the most influential female leaders in traditionally male-dominated careers. From researching DNA to developing software, these women in STEM inspire future female leaders.
Dawn Barry, president and co-founder of LunaPBC, made strides from humble beginnings in rural Connecticut to leading genetics innovations in San Diego. Kim Lane Clark believes young girls should learn about Dawn, explaining, “Representation matters. Girls need to see real-life scenes of their lives unfold; the good, the bad, and the ugly.”
Growing up surrounded by plants and animals initially sparked Dawn’s interest in biology, an interest that soon became a passion as she earned a degree in biology from the University of Vermont. Here is where she began her journey in genetics, harboring a fascination for being able to interpret the blueprint of all living things.
This fascination is what led to LunaPBC launching LunaDNA, a health research and development platform. LunaDNA is groundbreaking in that it’s the world’s first genetics research corporation that incentivizes DNA contributors by rewarding them shares of ownership of the company.
About Dawn, middle school teacher Hannah Pals tells us, “Little girls need to have more role models like Dawn; role models that are recent, and not just notable historical figures from the past, so that kids can have examples to follow and not just remember.”
Today, Dawn continues to drive innovations in genetics research and inspire new leaders. To learn more about Dawn and her impactful work, check out her TEDxSanDiego talk, There Is Nothing More Personal Than Your Genome.
As Chief Digital & Technology Officer of GSK — a global healthcare company that researches and manufactures pharmaceutical medicines, vaccines, and healthcare products — Karenann Terrell is a true leader in STEM.
Karenann was first introduced to STEM through her love for physics and high school friends who wanted to pursue engineering. Computer science was still in its genesis at the time, so Karenann opted to earn graduate and postgraduate degrees in Electrical Engineering from Kettering University and Purdue University.
Brandy New explains that young girls should learn about Karenann for this reason: “She has done exactly what I tell my teenage female students to do - show up and show out! It's not enough to be the token female in any STEM space, you have to dominate once you get there!”
At GSK, Karenann brings new technologies to areas like clinical trials and drug development while being outspoken on the importance of women in STEM. Previously, Karenann served as the Chief Information Officer for Walmart, entirely transforming the company’s use of data and analytics.
Julie Wilcott also praises Karenann, saying, “It is important for young children to learn the value of diversity. Karenann speaks to the inclusion of different voices in developing the best solution.”
Karenann continues to encourage STEM education and speaks to the importance of diversity as a member of the board of trustees for the New York Hall of Science. If you’d like to learn more about Karenann, check out her interview with Metis Strategy.
CEO and co-founder of Mailbird, Andrea Loubier is changing the way we conduct personal and business communication through email. The idea for Mailbird came to her while she and her coworkers at a software company were overwhelmed by managing emails. She began working for the software company during the day and burning the midnight oil developing Mailbird until 2:00 a.m every night.
Andrea’s hard work paid off as Mailbird catapulted into the forefront of influential tech companies, being nominated by PC World as one of the best productivity tools for the business person and by Microsoft as Startup of the Day.
Elementary Science Program Specialist Michael Cullen says young girls need role models like Andrea, explaining, “At times, it can be challenging for young women to see themselves as a fierce competitor for the future in the world of STEM. Andrea is showing young women what a woman can do.”
Andrea is now recognized as one of the top female entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia and is outspoken about the importance of female representation and wage equality in STEM careers.
Laurie Guyon, Coordinator for Model Schools, agrees that the example Andrea is setting is crucial, stating, “Learning about the journey of others will help our children to see a path that they may not have been aware of.”
If you’d like to learn more about Andrea, take a deep-dive into her insights on being a female minority in tech on Mailbird’s blog.
Introduce STEM to Female Leaders of Tomorrow With Sphero
Dawn, Karenann, and Andrea are each high-powered role models that inspire the next generation of female scientists and engineers. As STEM occupations continue to boom, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an 8% growth in the STEM labor force by 2029, outpacing the 3.4% projected growth of non-STEM occupations.
But, out of all of the STEM occupations available, computer and mathematical scientist roles continue to see the largest growth rate year after year. With no signs of slowing down anytime soon, there’ll be no shortage of STEM jobs ready for new female leaders to take on.