Congressman Garamendi Hosts Community Discussion on Women in the STEM Workforce
FAIRFIELD, CA - Congressman John Garamendi’s (D-Fairfield, Davis, Yuba City, CA) women’s advisory committee, the Women’s Initiative Network (WIN), today hosted a community conversation on helping women enter advanced careers in Science, Technology, Mathematics, and Engineering (STEM) and overcome workplace discrimination.
“The question we have as a society is ‘Why?’ Why aren’t women entering higher paying fields like STEM in a way that will give them an opportunity to find their way into the sector of the economy that is the most rapid growing, that provides the greatest opportunities for advancement, and that helps our economy with its enormous need for STEM-educated workers,” Congressman Garamendi said. “One of the issues that has been made clear to us is engagement and mentorship to help women stay interested and stay involved.”
The first guest speaker at the event was Pam Marrone, CEO and founder of Marrone Bio Innovation, a Davis company focused on discovering and developing effective and environmentally-responsible, biologically-based products for pest management and plant health.
Pam witnessed first hand gender-based women discrimination. While overt bias is on the decline, subconscious bias remains a problem.
Marrone said that in agriculture, there are more jobs than qualified people to fill them, yet women rarely enter the field. The entire food system has opportunities for jobs, including:
● Software coders helping collect data from sensors and yield monitors to be more efficient and reduce water use;
● Biologists improving seed varieties and working on specialized microbes;
● Scientists working on new and more efficient sources of protein;
● Chemistry experts focused on analyzing pesticide risk;
According to Marrone, new and recent graduates need to work on :
● Better and more aggressive salary negotiations
● Lab experience
● Report-writing skills
● Day planning
● Developing relevant internship experience prior to employment
Marrone also noted that given the shortage of qualified graduates in her field, reentry is very welcomed. It’s not too late for women who had a few years of experience in their 20s and 30s to re-enter the field later in life.
During the Q&A following Marrone’s presentation, the audience started an interesting conversation about writing skills for science majors. Many thought that our universities are not adequately preparing scientists with the writing skills necessary to advance in business.
The second speaker, Cari Lyn Vinci, is an entrepreneur and author of the teen book “PLAYBOOK for Teens,” which provides teenagers with real life examples of people who found rewarding career paths. In her experience writing the book, she found several common barriers to women pursuing science education, including:
● The disconnect in not seeing how science education is helpful
● Girls are lost in the shuffle during separation in higher levels of education
● Cultural barriers, ‘There are no girls in the science club.”
These bifurcations happen early, which is why Vinci focuses her work on middle school. Vinci has found that the girls who stay interested in science tend to find a mentor early, particularly teachers that encourage them even when they express frustration. Parental involvement is also key. She’s also found it helpful to encourage teenagers to write down and present their goals for their future careers.
“The more support girls have around them, the more likely they’ll be able to continue on their way no matter the setback,” Vinci said.
The third speaker at the event was Gethsemane Patton, Director of Educational Services for the Solano County Office of Education. Her comments focused on a number of programs in Solano County that help train teachers in STEM education. These programs help expand the potential of mentorship, making Solano County teachers more attune to the needs of academia and the regional economy.
The fourth speaker, Angela Higdon, the Regional Work-Based Learning Coordinator for the Northern California Career Pathways Alliance through the Solano County Office of Education, focused on workplace learning programs in Solano County. For example, one solar program helps train students through Solano Community College how to produce and maintain solar energy, and the program is focused on including participants that reflect the diversity of our region. In her experience, industry involvement in education is incredibly helpful, and having women in positions of significance within companies is key. When women and other underrepresented students in the science field are able to shadow people who look like them, it provides the expectation that there’s a place for them in this field too.
The final speaker, Marilyn Warmee, is an active member of the American Association of University Women. She is actively involved in two AAUW programs: the Tech Trek STEM summer camp for 7th grade girls and the AAUW STEM Conference for 8th grade girls in Yuba-Sutter counties, where 700 girls participated. Both are designed to provide immersion, mentorship, and positive re-enforcement for girls who have shown promise in the sciences. She’s also seen unwitting prejudices by some teachers and counselors that subconsciously discourage women from entering the sciences. She also noted that there are a lot of girls in our region that don’t have a wide worldview, that don’t know what’s possible. Experience with women professionals in a university setting for girls previously unexposed can be life changing.
“It’s important to make sure these girls don’t lose their focus as they move forward,” Warmee said.
During the broader Q&A, the conversation took several directions, including:
● Paid leave for parents and the balance and support needed to enable women with children to reenter the workforce
● The importance of coding education for children of color, including girls, given the number of jobs that requiring computer coding experience
● Ensuring that programs devoted to young girls are also reaching girls of color.
● One speaker noted that a lot of girls of color, are less likely to apply for positions unless they meet all the criteria, while men are more bold in applying for jobs that at first glance may appear out of their reach.
● The importance of confidence. Marrone noted that shadowing successful people helps build confidence in young people.
● Double standards in how behavior is treated between men and women. A high school sophomore noted that she sometimes gets harsh reactions for acting no differently than her male peers. The panel, all successful professional women, said they all still experience this to one extent or another. It’s an unfair reality of being a professional woman that you still have to develop a thick skin.
“I know more than a few women now in their 60s who are saying to themselves, ‘Do we have to do this all over again?’” Garamendi said. “Women have come a long way, but we’ll carry on. We will remain focused on this issue, but it remains one of the major cultural roadblocks not just for women’s advancement, but for America’s advancement as well. When women succeed, America succeeds.”
For more than a century, America has led the world in scientific innovation. A continuing commitment to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) is crucial to our innovative capacity and global competitiveness. Unfortunately, women are vastly underrepresented in STEM employment, holding less than 25 percent of STEM jobs, despite making up nearly half of the U.S. workforce. Increasing opportunities for women in these fields is not just the right thing to do but the smart thing to do. Women in other fields often find a different set of barriers such as unspoken bias or finding that their perspectives are too easily dismissed. And of course, women trying to balance family life and career advancement face walls and ceilings that make reaching their true potential difficult.
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