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STEM’s Greatest Weakness? Not Enough Women of Color

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Our world is changing at a rapid pace; from shifts in technology to shifts in demographics. To effectively compete in complex and diverse markets, many organizations across the globe are taking note and supporting talent in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

The Women of Color (WOC) in STEM conference connects people and organizations across the global STEM enterprise. To gain insight into how successful women of color have overcome adversity and rose to the top of their fields, we are proud to feature two WOC 2015 awardees who exemplify outstanding achievements in STEM with their leadership, innovation and inspiration: Tamara Taylor, a Prototype Build Engineer and Patricia Wilson, a Process Engineer.

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Both found interest in engineering because of their love of mathematics, though each admits they didn’t set out at first to become engineers.

“I chose a career in this field because I found that I really liked math,” says Taylor. "My mother also encouraged me to pursue this career path.”

For Wilson, “I chose engineering by default,” she remembers. “I wanted to be a math teacher but did not believe I wanted to work with children. Someone recommended engineering and here I am today!”

Oceans of opportunity

Today, both women are successful professionals. But the road wasn’t easy for either of them early in their careers. “One of the challenges that you face as a young woman in a STEM career is not seeing many people in your field that look like you,” observes Taylor.

Wilson recounts that she experienced similar biases. “I have faced many challenges in my career, such as being overlooked for promotion.”

What they faced wasn’t unusual — a recent study found that a stunning 100 percent of women of color in STEM professions encountered some sort of gender bias during their careers. But both women succeeded because they were able to use their internal resources to break through the barriers.

The impact of technology

Taylor found a way to turn negative perceptions into a positive tool she could use to get her good work noticed. She believes that her experience is one that other young women of color in STEM careers could use to their advantage, too. “I think that it’s really important to use [your] uniqueness to your advantage,” she says. “You already stand out so use this quality as a tool to your success.”

Wilson took an approach that focused on rising above the negativity. “I overcame these challenges by not being bitter.” She instead chose to take control of her career by “being willing to move to find the right place for me if the opportunities didn’t match my career goals.”

Encouraging the next generation

They may have taken different paths to engineering and they may have used different strategies to overcome the obstacles put in front of them as they established themselves in their field, but both women are very positive about the profession and encourage young women to consider a field that they may not have considered before.

“I would definitely encourage [young women] to pursue a STEM career,” says Taylor when asked what advice she has for young women thinking about the field. “I would also encourage them to work hard and be their best as they are working in their STEM career, understanding that they are blazing a trail for young women to follow.” She adds, “Represent us well. Make us look good!”

Today, young women interested in STEM careers are encouraged to look beyond the perception that it’s a field only available to men. Instead, young women who feel they might be drawn to the field should be excited about the fact that, in today’s world, science, technology, engineering and math are behind just about everything our society does.

“Know that it is okay to be female and an engineer or a scientist,” adds Wilson. “Don’t judge STEM by its public male face or sell it short. Know that almost everything of interest in your life can be linked back to STEM careers and all you need to do is get involved and find out.”