STEM Needs Women

Women are running away from science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs in droves. According to STEMconnector, a web site that tracks statistics on STEM field training and jobs in the U.S., male students are much more likely than female students to pursue these jobs, and the gap is expanding at an alarming rate.
 
Female interest in the science category of STEM jobs, which had been rising for years, has apparently peaked. Interest in math-related careers is dropping sharply among young women. 
 
Only 14 percent of engineering positions were held by women in 2009--despite the fact that women in STEM jobs are paid one-third more than women in other professions.
 
Many reasons have been suggested: Female role models are in short supply. STEM fields might seem less family-friendly than some others. And gender stereotyping shows no signs of abating.
 
Fortunately, not everyone got the memo that says STEM isn’t cool for young women.
 
When Rowena Lee shows up for work at a L’Oreal cosmetics factory in Somerset, N.J., she dons a white coat, goggles and a hairnet before striding onto a spotless factory floor where she is a manager at the tender age of 25.
 
A processing project engineer at a plant that makes lipstick, lip gloss and liquid cosmetics, Lee is two years into a four-year job rotation program for up-and-coming managers.
 
 
In a video showing Lee and other women in L’Oreal’s management training program, she talks about how a high school physics teacher kindled her excitement about a career in science.
 
That teacher, Joel Goodman, told me that “Rowena came to me with an interest in science; I just added the water.” He continued: “I like to put kids in situations where they are challenged to find solutions in groups and then to explain themselves to the rest of us.”
 
But, of course, there was more to it than that, Lee said in an interview. Goodman was “an excellent teacher who kind of pushed me” to pursue an engineering career, in part by explaining how science reveals the hidden designs that make our world function.
 
Today, Lee recognizes that she is a potential role model for young women who might otherwise never consider jobs like hers. “Women bring a completely different perspective, and you need that diversity to make a good product,” she says in the L’Oreal video.
 
Don’t let intimidation from men keep you from accomplishing your goals, she adds. “When you encounter a situation where you can be the voice of reason, they’re shocked a lot of the time.”
 
And she observes: “Scientists are so cool—especially women.”
 
Already, she is giving back. Lee is mentoring a young woman in the L’Oreal job rotation program.
 
Lee might be just woman bucking a daunting trend. But if every young woman like Lee--and every great teacher like Goodman—can persuade just one more girl to follow in Lee’s footsteps, we just might start moving in the right direction.
 
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