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Increasing Women in STEM Starts with Men

Working in the heavily male-dominated power industry can be very challenging if you're a woman in STEM.
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Working in the power industry, a heavily male-dominated industry, I don’t have the benefit of interacting with many women on a daily basis. I am frequently the only woman on job sites and in meetings, and no matter where I’ve been in my career, when I looked up the corporate ladder, I’ve seen very few women standing on rungs above me.

This void in my professional life was filled when I joined SWE early on in my career. It was rewarding to become part of a growing group of women who shared my passions and challenges.

Joining SWE also reminded me that I was not alone, as we know gender inequality is all too common in STEM fields. As women, we talk a lot about ways to close the gender gap. But if my experience has taught me anything, it’s that we cannot tackle the gender equality issue on our own. We have to get men invested in the issue first, then make them our diversity partners to create a long-lasting solution.

Here are four ways we can make men our diversity partners.

  1. Education. There have been several times throughout my career when I’ve been treated differently because I am a woman. While this behavior is completely unacceptable, I believe many times it’s done subconsciously. So the first step toward correcting this behavior is addressing it through education. By starting the discussion around what inclusivity really means and how men and women may perceive things differently, we can make men more aware of their subtle biases and offer alternative approaches. For example, I’ve found that when I’ve discussed these topics with men that I work with using a constructive approach (without blame or anger-but open and congenial), most men have been very receptive to the feedback.
  2. Inclusion. It is refreshing to see many companies have started programs to improve gender equality. But if men aren’t actively involved, the program isn’t going to be successful. Both men and women must take leadership roles to set good examples and work together to create positive change.
  3. Common Ground. Men and women really aren’t that different. Many traditional women’s issues such as child care, leave after the birth of a child, and flexible work schedules have now become family issues. More and more households are single-parent households or households where both partners work full-time. Given that today’s male and female engineers are equally as concerned about these issues, now is a great time to partner with men to create a better work environment for us all.
  4. MENtors. I have had the pleasure of working with many smart, supportive male mentors and sponsors who have made a significant difference in my career. If you expand your network by seeking learning opportunities from both men and women, you will gain well-rounded experience and varied points-of-view. And you’ll have that much more you can teach to the people you mentor.

As members of SWE, I encourage us all to seek opportunities to engage men in the discussion and work with them to attract and retain more women in our field. By partnering with men to create healthy dialogues on gender equality and tackling the problem head on, we can create better career opportunities for the next generation of engineers.

Colleen Layman is SWE’s FY 16 president. What are your tips for engaging men in the gender equality in engineering discussion?


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