The Importance of Highly Visible Role Models

This Forbes article is the second I’ve read in recent months that talks about the fact that one of the things keeping more young women from entering STEM fields is a lack of visible female role models.  It’s a chicken-or-the-egg problem: girls don’t see a lot of women in the field, and conclude that it’s not really a field for women, so they don’t go into that field. The problem becomes self-perpetuating.

We all know that women are still vastly outnumbered in almost every STEM field, but don’t always realize that one of the best ways to fix that is to just stand up and be noticed.  People are surprised, even shocked when I tell them that I am, in fact a “rocket scientist.”  I have a B.S. and an M.S. in aerospace engineering, and an M.S. in Space Studies.  But I don’t fit the stereotype.  Ok, well, other than the lack of social skills.  That one I have in spades.

I get a lot of “I never would have guessed!” or, “You don’t look like an engineer!” reactions when I tell people what I do, which I’m never quite sure how to take.  Never would have guessed why?  Because I’m a woman?  Because I’m still fairly young?  Or because I don’t talk to my (mismatched) shoes?  I never quite know how to respond to that kind of reaction.

Most of the female engineers I work with also don’t remotely look or act like the stereotype.  We need to get the word out that most people’s idea of what an engineer or scientist looks like is wrong.  We come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and genders, and we need to make ourselves visible to the next generation so that children don’t ever get the idea that they can’t be in one of these fields because they don’t see anyone who looks like them or has a background like theirs.

If you have a moment, the article is a good read and it does an excellent job explaining some of the reasons I am active with STEM outreach for young people – and why I started this blog.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2012/06/20/stem-fields-and-the-gender-gap-where-are-the-women/

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