Friday, February 29, 2008

Highlights from the 2/26 Discussion Group Meeting

Thanks to everyone who came out for our first evening Discussion Group meeting! We had a great turn out and fabulous discussions. Given the venue and the size of our group, we broke up into 3 smaller groups and switched places throughout the evening. This gave everyone a chance to meet and talk with almost everyone who attended.

The highlights for me weren’t so much around the topic of mentoring but more around the need for this group. The women who attended were hungry for an opportunity to network with other women and discuss meaningful topics.

I also learned that many of the attendees weren’t aware of the history of Women & Hi Tech, so please allow me to tell the story from my perspective. The beginning came when I met Georgia Miller at a meeting called to discuss bringing more technology and science businesses to Indiana. What struck both of us was the lack of women at this meeting. We both voiced this opinion and then struck up a conversation during a break. From this conversation, we decided to bring in other women we knew to continue discussing the challenges that women face in technology fields.

We had a great turn out for that first meeting, which led to another, and another. Our attendance grew with each meeting and we knew we were onto something. Finally came the time to turn these informal discussion groups into a more formal organization and just over a year later in July 1999 Women & Hi Tech was formally incorporated.

Our mission has always been to attract, develop, retain, support, and promote women in science and technology fields. I’d like to expound upon each of those concepts. The first step is to attract women and girls to these fields. Studies have shown that the “weed out” age for most technology careers is middle school. If girls don’t take the right science and especially math classes in middle school, then they can’t take the requisite science and math courses in high school that will prepare them for these majors in college. Then when these young women reach college, they find that if they’d like to major in science, engineering, technology that they may not be able to complete their degree in four years.

Unfortunately, many girls aren’t encouraged to take these classes. They’re seen as too hard and girls may not understand the need to take calculus, chemistry, or physics. Our modern media typically doesn’t portray women as scientists, computer programmers, or engineers unless they’re the homely type.

For the women who do make it through these majors in college, it’s important that they have the support to continue to develop in their careers. With the exception of medical school, the ratio of women in most graduate programs in science and technology can be as low as one woman for every 10 men. These are also careers that seem to promote and reward a macho culture of devoting most of your waking hours to your chosen profession. Many young women will have few female role models and fewer still who haven’t adopted the male style prevalent in these fields.

This is why retention becomes an issue. Women drop out of science and technology careers at a rate of 2:1 vs. their male colleagues. Young women are led to believe that 50+ hour work weeks are necessary to advance at a point in their life when they are beginning to think about beginning their families. So, many of them drop out, either into more traditionally female fields or out of the workforce altogether.

Women in the workforce face far different challenges than their male counterparts. This is difficult enough for any working woman but these issues become magnified when you are in the minority among your colleagues. I believe that few men consciously discriminate against women. However, it happens nonetheless. I’ve attended many a conference or seminar where all the speakers are men. I don’t believe the organizers purposely omitted women but they didn’t see anything wrong with a panel without women. As women we need to support each other, speak up when we see unintentional omissions, help our male colleagues, and superiors understand the challenges we face each day.

Finally we need to celebrate and promote the successes of women in science and technology. Who are the role models for our daughters? As I mentioned in a previous column, the last women to win Nobel Prizes in some fields did so in the 1960’s, though I’d argue that there are many successful women in the sciences despite this. You need look no further than the list of Leading Light award winners for confirmation of this. We can’t wait around for others to shine the spotlight on us. We need to do this for ourselves.

This is why I’ve been a part of Women & Hi Tech all these years. It’s been about women supporting each other through, networking, mentoring, and being the spotlight for one another’s successes. It’s about reaching back to help the next generation of women, to provide role models, and help them learn from our struggles. For me it’s about leveling the playing field for my daughter, my nieces and all the other young women out there.

On a final note, back to our discussion topic for all of you out there who mentioned that you are looking for mentors, please e-mail me. I’ll be happy to tap into my personal network to help you find someone who can help you.

By popular demand, these meetings will take place monthly. The next meetings will be on Tuesday March 18th at 6:45 am at B Java and on Tuesday March 25th at 7pm at D’Vine. Our next topic will be on networking – stay tuned for more.


1 comment:

Karol said...

Hi Joyce,

I just wanted to thank you for the invite to the group. I am very excited about the personal and collective growth possibilites that the group offers. May I suggest that a roster/contact list be made availabe to those who are interested in sharing their information. Business cards are good but it would be great if everyone's information was accessible in one location....just a thought especially with the next discussion focused on networking