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What it Takes to Be a Role Model in STEAM

A new era for women

Up until the late 1980s, women were not expected to have careers in STEAM and such jobs were overtly geared towards men. “School teachers are realizing the need for a push to ensure that STEAM curricula is inclusive of young girls. Girls need to be encouraged instead of made to feel that they’re not as good as the boys in those subjects,” says Katherine Manuel, Senior Vice President of innovation at Thomson Reuters, an information technology and services company. Katherine, who works closely with people to help them understand and operate different types of technology, hopes to see more tech-inspired activities that are geared toward school-aged girls. “I enrolled my five-year-old daughter in a Lego-building class which I thought might help her to conceptualize her engineering skills. She was the only girl out of 15 kids,” says Manuel.

Lynn Langit, a cloud architect with her own consulting firm, agrees that there is a vast divide between genders in the STEAM field, but also argues that great change is taking stride: “In some parts of the world, like India, being a computer programmer is considered as prestigious as being a doctor, and it’s not gender-specific.” Lynn says this realization is what inspired her to teach computer coding to middle school-aged children. She says that she targets middle school because this is when children tend to become more aware of the gender differences imposed upon them by society.

Coding is something that Langit became interested in over 18 years ago when she was on an eight-week bedrest during a pregnancy. “I was just interested in how websites worked. Plus, I thought it might be cool to make a website and show everyone how wonderful my baby was,” she laughs.

Misconception and miscommunication

Rae Wang, a consulting executive at ETB Worldwide in Seattle, insists that there is more creativity in science and technology than people give credit for. Indeed, what is seemingly a predominantly “left-brained” job actually provides abundant opportunities for creativity and innovation. “Technology is just a means to an end. Don’t be afraid to be human, or to make mistakes. Creativity belongs to humans. Perfection is for machines,” Wang says. She sees her career in tech not only as a way to learn about technology, but to create innovative new technology. Unfortunately, Rae is aware of the glass ceiling discouraging so many women from getting where they want to be in STEAM: “Me and the women around me were acknowledged for our ‘potential,’ but turning that potential into actual promotion was the real challenge.”

Sociologist Bonita Banducci specializes in gender studies. To explain why women have such a difficult time overcoming the gender gap in any type of a workplace, she says, “Men and women tend to work differently. Men tend to be more individualistic, meaning they are oriented toward working alone and getting things done quickly, whereas women are more relational, which means they prefer to work in collaborative groups and take their time on things.” Even though men and women think differently — or have been conditioned to do so, as the case may be — Bonita believes that neither work methodology is better than the other. “It’s about coming together with these different [strategies and] points of view and finding a balance between them,” she says.

What’s next?

So what’s next for these amazing women? Manuel has every intention, not only to stick with STEM, but to give back to it: “STEAM has been so pivotal to the success in my life, so now I’m looking at ways that I can pass the influence down to younger people, especially girls.”

Langit also intends to stick with STEAM, revealing that her most recent project is in cancer genomics: “We are working with biologists that are researching cancer, so that they can use technology to get faster feedback on their genomic sequencing.”

Like Manuel and Langit, Wang also hopes to be the driving force behind a positive, STEAM-inspired influence in the lives of others. “I have a personal goal to donate more time and resources in the future to help advance the careers of women in technology,” she says. She cites her mother as an inspiration. “[My mother] said, ‘The best way to be a role model to my children is to have fun with my career.’” In the same way, these women are having fun with their careers in STEAM for the benefit of the next generation.

Julia Miglets, [email protected]

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