Getting young people interested in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) careers is a high priority for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Engineers and scientists make great efforts to expose future employees to STEM by speaking at schools, judging events and mentoring. But what about the here and now? What about the current employees who are in STEM careers? How do we inspire them – particularly women -- to stay in these worthwhile positions?
That was some of many questions 15 New England District team members brought with them to the Women in STEM conference held Oct. 21 at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. New England District team members that attended the conference consisted of six male supervisors and nine female employees from Engineering/Planning. Businesses such as Tata Consulting, Raytheon, Battelle, Dassault Systemes and educational institutions to include Bentley University and Northeastern were all either attending the program or were speaking on a panel.
Mark Anderson, New England District’s STEM coordinator, heard about the event in a forwarded e-mail and thought it could benefit the District. “It wasn’t one of the volunteer efforts we’ve been doing where you go out and coach or make a presentation,” he said. “This was more of a conference setting where speakers came in to make presentations and we were there to observe, listen and engage in the discussions.”
Scott Acone, Chief of Engineering/Planning, also thought it was worth attending to hear about STEM in the work place. “For Engineering and Planning, I wanted to know how we can create an environment that is more welcoming and open for both attracting and retaining qualified women doing engineering and science activities,” he said.
The featured presentation was entitled, “The New Frontier of Engaging Men as Full Partners in the Advancement of Women,” by Betsy Myers, Center for Women and Business at Bentley University.
According to the conference coordinators, the goal of her presentation was to help attendees understand how to continue to close the confidence gap for women, how to address the balance question, the different leadership styles of men and women and the leadership necessary for the next generation of women. “I enjoyed the feature presentation,” said Megan Cullen. “Historically, women have had hundreds of internal conversations about women’s equality and advancement, but history has proven these conversations to be marginally successful. Myers suggests that the stalemate occurs because men have not been involved in the conversation.”
In a panel discussion entitled, “Strategies for Leveraging Partnerships Between Key Stakeholders: Business, Government, Education and Philanthropy,” panel members moderated a discussion in the art of fostering and connecting local innovation with state leadership for national impact. Other relevant topics that were presented during the conference included: “Thinking BIG about girls in STEM and Million Women Mentors"; “Smart STEM Investing: What to Measure"; "Broadening the Breadth of STEM Workforce Through Racial and Ethnic Diversity"; "Employee Engagement: Programs that Work to Engage and Retain Women in STEM"; and "Future of the American Workforce; How to Recruit and Retain Talent in the New Generation of STEM Graduates".
“My favorite presentation was ‘Broadening the Breadth of STEM Workforce Through Racial and Ethnic Diversity,' by Dr. Uma Gupta, Founder and Executive Director, STEM-Smart.org,” said Angela Frisino. “Her presentation was about the neurobiology behind stereotypes and how we can recognize our unconscious prejudices, both racial and gender to use that to change our behavior. It was the most interesting topic presented throughout the day.”
Attending the Women in STEM Conference provided insight to the District team, not only from the presentations, but also from the District team themselves. “People felt comfortable enough to have a conversation,” said Anderson. “We sat and had about a 20-minute group recap. There were some really honest opinions that were going around the table at the end.”
“We got good feedback from everybody,” Acone agreed. “I also think it got some of the folks that maybe haven’t been all that engaged more interested in doing some outreach. I think there were definitely some there that never would have considered themselves a mentor that maybe now they would be interested in taking on that kind of role, and that’s a benefit.”
According to Acone and Anderson, the conference also led to serious conversations on how to establish a better mentoring program in Engineering/Planning and to be able to mentor both the young and older employees in terms of career development.
For those who attended the conference, it was a worthwhile experience. “I think the men in the audience became more aware of the female perspective and more thoughtful participants in ensuring female success in the workplace,” said Cullen.
Anderson said he would consider attending again next year. “I think it would be an interesting follow on to what we heard this year,” he said.
Acone suggested that if they did attend next year, that Engineering/Planning might not be the only Division to go. “It would be good to get other District chiefs involved next year to see if we can get more participation,” he said.
New England District Team members attending the Women in STEM conference support the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Campaign Initiative, “Prepare For Tomorrow.”