What Women in STEM? – by Deborah Levine

The Double-Dog-Dare Challenge

One of the positive side effects of the recent, rather dismal, report on Google’s diversity workforce data is the determination to see it as “a double dog dare” challenge. When PBS NewsHour alerted me in advance of the airing of the show, I leaped at the chance to jump into the fray. My thanks to PBS for providing a transcript for “Google’s diversity record shows women and minorities left behind.” Here are highlights from the PBS NewsHour conversation on the diversity of STEM nationally and how Chattanooga is responding to that challenge on a local level.

THE NATIONAL CHALLENGE

PBS NewsHour moderator introduced the challenge:
“ As the U.S. technology sector has boomed, women and minorities have largely been left behind. That is especially true for one familiar tech giant, Google, which, along with other Silicon Valley companies, has increasingly been pressured to disclose its record on diversity.
In a new internal report released to the NewsHour, the company reveals, although 30% of Google’s total global work force is comprised of women, only 17% of the workers who hold tech jobs are female.”

GOOGLE:   Responding on behalf of Google was its Senior Vice President of People Operations, Laszlo Bock.
“Yes, you know, there’s a number of things explaining why the numbers are actually so bad. Part of it is, if you look at women, women aren’t taking a lot of computer science courses. And the culture of the tech industry at a lot of places isn’t that great for women.
We have been working on this a lot at Google, and particularly in the last year working on bringing more unconscious bias training to our employees and more awareness of this.”

NATIONAL VOICES:  A panel of national experts added their perspectives. Noting that over-all diversity in the technical work force is minimal (Latinos are just 2% of the tech work force, African-Americans 1%), the panel then focused on women:
• Retention: Women drop out at a greater rate than men.
• Education: There is a shortage of internships in technology for women.
• Corporate Culture: The all-male culture is not welcoming to women.
• Jobs: Women students in STEM fields. may not have job offers when they graduate.

THE LOCAL CHALLENGE

The national challenge is echoed locally. Chattanooga, like many American cities, suffers from the lack of STEM skills in its population. Concern is growing, especially given the arrival of the Volkswagen plant. The past few years has seen unprecedented numbers of international manufacturing companies and related vendors coming to Chattanooga and the US Southeast. The emergence of Chattanooga as a global village has meant awareness of global competition in this scenic, small Southern city virtually overnight. Nowhere is the focus growing more intense than among those cultural group traditionally steered elsewhere, including women and minorities.

Many locals are employed in these new businesses, but there has also been an influx of expats and transplants filling positions, particularly technical jobs. Even so, just this week the Chattanooga Times Free Press featured an article on its front page about the difficulty of finding local talent to fill the 30% of advertised jobs that require STEM skills. Not surprisingly, the STEM situation is now a community-wide conversation. The result is an increased focus on technical training and the development of a STEM high school.

AN ONGOING LOCAL RESPONSE:  The American Diversity Report’s new blog, Women in Technology, will explore STEM discussions in Chattanooga and their interface with regional and national issues. The focus will be women, complementing our sponsorship of Women Ground Breakers and the annual storytelling event in March, Women’s History Month. Women in Technology begins with an overview and update by Sheila Boyington. Sheila is an engineer by training, a pioneering entrepreneur of online training, and a long-time community activist locally and nationally. Click to see her article, “Are STEM Careers for Girls at Risk?”

 

Editor-in-Chief

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