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Culture change, education called critical to increasing numbers of women in STEM

Rachel Haot was the keynote speaker at the inaugural Women in STEM Summit. Photo: Doug Hansgate, AMP Studios

By MICHAEL ANDREI

Published April 24, 2015

“We have a national challenge to meet a growing workforce and we will not be able to do this without bringing more women into STEM-related careers.”
Rachel Haot, chief digital officer
New York State

Rachel Haot, New York state’s first chief digital officer, told attendees at UB’s inaugural Women in STEM Summit that culture change and education – including more STEM scholarships – are critical to enabling more women to take advantage of opportunities available to them in science, technology, engineering and math careers.

The well-attended event was held April 23 in the Student Union on the UB North Campus.

UB served as host for the summit as part of its commitment to increase opportunities for female students and other women to build careers in STEM.  

Haot, who joined the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2014, noted that STEM-related careers are growing more than twice as fast as other industries across the United States.

“We have a national challenge to meet a growing workforce and we will not be able to do this without bringing more women into STEM-related careers,” she said.

“Events such as this one are a big help in doing that by highlighting success stories and supporting professional development.”

In opening remarks, Liesl Folks, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, said the longtime industry strategy of simply encouraging more women to enter STEM-based careers has not worked.

“It is not about encouragement. There are 11 Muslim nations that graduate more women who enter STEM careers than the U.S. — some as high as 60 percent. It is about the culture of the workplace.”

Women are underrepresented in all of these fields, although the gap varies by profession, said summit organizer Kathleen Murphy.

“The closer we move toward gender parity in computer science and engineering, for example, the more welcoming and engaging for women those workplaces will be,” said Murphy, service manager of UB Computing and Information Technology Network and Classroom Services.

Murphy pointed out that interest in the issue of women in STEM is high at UB, noting the success of last year’s “Sit with Me” program and last fall’s STEM Tweetathon.

“It is essential for UB to remain in the forefront of the discussion,” she said.

The summit was a collaboration between the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences, Undergraduate Academies, UB STEM, Academic Affairs, Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Partnership, and Institute for Research and Education on Women and Gender. Additional sponsors included the UB Intercultural and Diversity Center, Office of Student Engagement, Computing and Information Technology and the Professional Staff Senate.

I recently heard on an NPR show that in many STEM classes females are in the minority, i.e., only about 10 percent. As a result, some male students bully, insult, ridicule and harass them, making them uncomfortable -- further inhibiting their integration into the classroom and workforce.

 

Jean Alberti