Welcome to episode 55 of my podcast, The Executive Edge, the podcast for skills in life and business.

Today I have Stephanie Slocum who founded Engineers Rising.  She has extensive experience of supporting women in to technical areas as well as encouraging them to stay. Stephanie is on a mission to normalize engineering, technology, science, and math (something she refers to as STEM). She feels  there are not enough women in these fields and particularly in leadership positions.

She helps women become influential leaders while having a life. Stephanie also helps organizations committed to gender equity in STEM, create work environments that retain and engage their women.

This was the main issue we discussed during this episode. |Young people can be encouraged in to the fields but even after they’ve completed their degrees, they may not continue on to work. When they do start work, the drop out rate can be as high as 50%

But why is this?

Stephanie feels getting started in STEM is all about who encourages you in. If you have an enthusiastic parent or teacher, then it’s likely you may be excited by and interested in, pursuing the subjects. If you cannot see the practical application of what you’re learning, you’re more likely to reject it.

This is why maths was often a dry or boring subject at school for some of us.  We often rejected it because we couldn’t see why, or how, it made sense in the outside world. Some of the time therefore, young people stop their interest in subjects until someone helps them see how they would actually use it.

she engineersEncouragement isn’t the only ingredient needed to tackle this issue though. Coming out of college and University in to fields currently dominated by men can be daunting for women, and men, alike. Few leaders especially in technical fields, are trained to be good leaders.  Therefore, they may consciously, or unconsciously, be biased themselves.  Or, they may simply not prevent the prejudice women encounter. This road block comes in the form of ‘benevolent sexism’ as Stephanie calls it. This is the kind of soft comments that prevent someone from being taken seriously.

What else do women need?

One area of enormous interest is the potential benefit of building confidence and resilience in women once they are in technical areas. Otherwise, they can hide their light under a bushel, become risk averse and lack the assertiveness to speak up. Their ideas can be overlooked, or their progression can be blocked. But, it’s clear some women are persevering.

She has also written a book called She Engineers, which you can currently find on Amazon for £7.80

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