Women make up only 28% of the workforce in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and men outnumber women majoring in most STEM undergraduate majors, according to a recent survey.
This statistic drives engineer and STEM advocate Caitlin Kalinowski to be a guiding voice for women and minorities interested in these industries. Kalinowski actively promotes more women joining these fields while working as a leader in virtual reality.
“Women entering highly male-dominated places have always had to learn new ways of communicating to be effective,” she said in a recent announcement. “In past roles, I’ve had to learn how to communicate in a masculine culture in ways that I was not socialized for.
“Even [STEM] courses for young people use problem sets and projects more appealing to young men, so we need to start at the very beginning to improve diversity,” she said.
“In the short term, we can teach young women and girls to communicate effectively in STEM environments, so they can achieve the same status as men in the fields,” said Kalinowski. Longer term, balancing and diversifying the STEM fields themselves will create cultures that are more welcoming to young women and underrepresented minorities.”
Kalinowski believes that constant discussions in the media about how male-dominated STEM fields are can actually make the problem worse, and that instead positive messages and role models need to be shown to young women and girls.
By constantly discussing these stereotypes, young girls can develop further insecurities. Instead, Kalinowski wants the next generation to experience normalcy and confidence in STEM, with fewer gender stereotypes attached.
Statistically, women are still vastly underrepresented in the STEM workforce. However, women have made gains—from 8% of STEM workers in 1970 to 27% in 2019.
Kalinowski hopes this statistic will continue to increase, as we address the major factors contributing to these gaps: gender stereotypes, imposter syndrome, male-dominated cultures, fewer role-models, and a lack of confidence girls develop in their own leadership abilities.
“[It’s important to] find women and hire them, and to make sure they have resources and support. You have to build relationships,” she said. “Letting college women and schoolgirls know that they have a future in these industries is a huge piece of this.
“More importantly, if girls seem hesitant to enter a STEM field, it’s imperative they receive positive mentoring,” said Kalinowski.
How to Bring More Women Into AV
AVIXA Women’s Council chairwoman Brandy Alvarado is cautiously optimistic about the strides women made in STEM careers in the past 50 years but knows the work is far from done.
“I’m happy to see that (women have) made considerable gains…but we still have much work to do to encourage and attract more young women to seek out careers in STEM,” she says. “In my opinion, it needs to start early on in middle and high school aged students.
“Outreach programs that showcase AV/IT careers are key in enticing young women into this career path. There is no AV 101 course available in college, but building a curriculum, and perhaps making it available to tech colleges would be a great opportunity to make additional strides,” says Alvarado.
“Diversity is much needed in this industry,” she says. “Diversity creates additional pathways for opportunities for women and other minority groups. Diversity in the workplace can lead to greater productivity, company profitability, team morale and better employee retention rates—and we all must commit to be a part of the solution.”
A critical step to help more women and minorities succeed in this industry would be recognizing this issue early and bringing it forward in elementary and middle school, said Kalinowski. With more girls feeling confident and proud of their interest in STEM at a younger age, their transition into collegiate and career-based STEM programs would be more pleasant and less stressful.
“It’s really important to me how we [communicate this concern],” said Kalinowski. “I worry about how society talks about STEM and how to get more girls to participate because when one focuses on the gap, girls will internalize it. Be careful not to imply that these are predominantly male areas.
“Telling your daughter that she’s smart and capable is really important,” she said.
Kalinowski has experienced challenges as a female mechanical engineer and wants to help prepare young women for STEM fields. She is devoted to being a mentor and a role model for the younger generation.
“Seeing more women in the field can be a source of inspiration,” she said. “Girls have to be shown what women can do. The key is to foster their drive with mentoring and the opportunity to follow that dream.”
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