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Op-ed: We need to get more women into U.S. engineering jobs

First Published      Last Updated Jul 15 2017 03:00 pm

America needs the skills and talent of every one of its citizens, especially in science and engineering fields, to ensure we are the strongest, most innovative economy in the world.

As women in STEM fields, the successful film "Hidden Figures" really hit home. When films like this succeed, it demonstrates that our society is ready to celebrate smart, strong, effective women. Unfortunately, the numbers show that in practice, we have not come far enough. We still have a long way to go.

Today, only 13 percent of U.S. engineering jobs are held by women. Overall, only one in four jobs in tech, engineering and math is held by women. And female engineers still earn just 82 percent of what comparable male coworkers earn.




Within organizations, a recent MIT study found, women engineers are often discouraged or shut out from opportunities by flawed group dynamics and biases that steer the most interesting and challenging opportunities to men.

Fortunately, these are challenges we have the tools to solve.

The Boeing Company, for example, has put in place a company-wide all-hands-on-deck effort to tackle this problem and eliminate roadblocks to establishing a truly gender-neutral workforce at every level.

This starts with a massive commitment to supporting STEM education and ensuring that girls have equal STEM opportunities. The company funds local programs and partners with STEM educators in its communities to ensure the talent pipeline is filled with female engineers who are ready to tackle the toughest challenges in the business. In 2016, the company and its trust partnered with more than 120 local STEM organizations and contributed more than $18 million towards community initiatives reaching more than 600,000 young women.

In Utah, there are thousands of STEM-related jobs flooding the market. Female students need the necessary skill sets to be prepared for these demands, as well as future demands in careers that do not yet exist.

How students obtain these necessary skill sets is by providing them with exciting hands-on, real world, STEM-related experiences. It is these experiences that can help to change a historical stigma and mindset that has prevailed in our nation for more than a century, particularly with women, who were not encouraged to pursue these areas of study.

The Utah STEM Action Center wants to see the economy grow, and wants students to have every opportunity for success in a competitive workforce environment. The Utah STEM Action Center appreciates industry partners like Boeing who understand this critical charge and who have stepped forward as a champion in providing STEM resources to Utah. These efforts will ultimately broaden student's awareness and increase opportunities for a student to have a successful career pathway.

But preparing and hiring strong female candidates is not enough. We know that it takes active management of the workplace and a steady commitment to truly equal opportunity to give all young engineers an equal chance to succeed.

For Boeing that has meant a company-wide commitment to equal opportunity in hiring. Since the company was founded in 1916, women had always played key roles. In 1919, when universities across America refused to accept women into engineering programs, Bill Boeing hired the first woman in the company's engineering department.

Today from the very top of the company, where for the first time in 100 years a woman now heads the vital defense and space business, to every layer below, women play key roles. The Boeing Executive Council is currently 25 percent female, and women head major programs and sectors across the organization, including here in Utah at Boeing's cutting-edge Salt Lake area manufacturing facilities.

Our organizations are proud to partner with leaders in industry who are willing to make a real commitment to equal opportunity. We look forward to the amazing accomplishments and inventions that the next generation of female engineers will create.

Laura Bogusch is the general manager of Boeing Salt Lake. Alison Spencer is the foundation director of Utah STEM, which is a part of the Governor's Office of Economic Development.

 

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