Empowering females in STEM: A Pathway to Success
At the age of eight, I was diagnosed with a heart condition that led me on a remarkable journey of surgeries and a life-altering heart transplant at 17. Throughout my treatment, my fascination with cardiology grew, and I realized that a career in biomedical engineering would allow me to work with others facing similar cardiovascular challenges. Today, as a female biomedical engineer, I am fortunate to be surrounded by supportive colleagues. However, the underrepresentation of women in this field is discouraging and poses a significant threat to our nation’s economic future.
Progress and Challenges of females in STEM:
Women have made remarkable progress towards achieving educational and workplace equity in recent decades. The number of working women with college degrees has quadrupled since 1970, and women now account for nearly 60% of undergraduates in the United States. However, advancements in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) professions have been slower. Nationally, women receive just over one-third of higher-education STEM degrees.
In Illinois, the situation is slightly better, with women earning 37.1% of STEM degrees in 2019. Nonetheless, progress has been sluggish, with only a 1% increase in the share of STEM degrees earned by women in the state since 2010. This gender gap, particularly prominent in engineering occupations, where women comprise just 15% of the workforce, represents a significant missed opportunity.
Unleashing Potential of females in STEM:
The United States is on the brink of a critical shortage of STEM workers, with estimates projecting a need for over 1 million additional workers in these fields by 2031. This shortage highlights the immense potential for women to fill these rewarding and well-paying jobs, provided we achieve greater gender parity.
However, addressing this issue goes beyond economic considerations. It is about creating opportunities for women to experience the stimulating and gratifying professional journeys that STEM fields offer.
Empowering the Next Generation for females in STEM:
To bridge the gender gap in STEM, we must start by providing young women with early exposure and inspiration in these fields. Women in STEM can play a vital role by actively engaging with young girls, showcasing their careers, sharing their expertise, and mentoring them. Employers also have a responsibility to recruit and support young women in STEM education. Companies like Abbott, where I work, actively recruit women and underrepresented groups, offering internships in engineering, manufacturing, and information technology to expose them to the possibilities and rewards of STEM careers.
Making Diversity a Priority for females in STEM:
More companies need to prioritize efforts to diversify their workforce, recognizing it as an investment in their own future and the overall economy. By proactively engaging with young women and providing early work experiences, firms can dispel misconceptions and demonstrate that STEM careers are both attainable and fulfilling.
As a beneficiary of a successful heart transplant and witnessing the progress of women’s participation in the sciences, I am grateful for the opportunities I have had. However, numerous young women still face barriers in accessing and exploring STEM careers. By actively working to break down these barriers, we can empower more women to pursue their passions in STEM, ensuring not only their personal success but also the future prosperity of our nation. Together, let us create a world where women thrive and excel in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.