Hidden Figures

“Girls aren’t good at math.”

“Science isn’t for girls.”

 “Girls can’t become engineers.”

Unfortunately, we still hear these statements. While society has made great strides to encourage girls in these subjects, we still have a lot of work to do. As a female engineer, it is my responsibility to show girls that they can be good at math and science and they can become engineers.  As we reflect on another National Engineers’ Week, we are reminded that more must be done.

The good news: According to the U.S. Department of Education, girls are making strides in K-12 classrooms by keeping pace with male classmates in higher-level math and science courses.

The bad news: Only eight percent of 9th-grade females intend to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).  Once they  get to college, the gap widens with young women receiving fewer bachelor’s degrees than their male counterparts in computer sciences (18.2%), engineering (19.2%), physics (19.1%), and mathematics and statistics (43.1%). 

Despite the fact that women make up 50 percent of today’s workforce, we are still ‘hidden figures’ in careers focused on STEM. According to Bureau of Labor and Statistics and analysis by American Association of University Women (AAUW), female scientists and engineers represent only 13 percent of the engineering workforce and only 26 percent in computer and mathematical sciences. Adding insult to injury, many women leave these industries because of the persistence of a non-inclusive culture.

I began my career at WSSC in 1986 -- a female in an overwhelmingly male-dominated industry. I was lucky, however, to have been inspired and mentored by women who were well-established in management roles. Fortunately, WSSC continues to be an organization where talent defines opportunities.

Throughout National Engineers’ Week, WSSC continued working to build the talent pipeline by engaging students in hands-on STEM activities. Our most anticipated event of the week was our first ever Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day on February 23rd. As I spoke with these young women, ranging from 7th to 9th grade, I told them that I was a curious student; I liked engaging with people and solving problem. I am also good at math and science… and now I am an engineer who became the first female General Manager/CEO of one of the largest water and wastewater utilities in the nation. Their “aha moment” was the realization that there is a place for them in the engineering field.  

As engineers and STEM professionals, we must collectively build a pipeline of talent that is ready to solve the growing challenges facing our nation. We especially need to step up our efforts to ensure we have more girl power in STEM careers.  So let’s partner with our schools, communities and youth-based groups to ensure that the young problems-solvers of today become tomorrow’s problem-solving STEM professionals.

Carla A. Reid