Where would we be without our iPhones, tablets, and laptops? The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) field is responsible for much of what we know to be everyday conveniences in life, from something as simple as turning the light on to driving a car. Even though these important aspects of life are everywhere, these “conveniences” are produced by a primarily male dominated industry.
Retention of women in STEM fields is much lower than men in the same field.
For women there is a struggle to fit in, which still is continuing in such related fields today. Predominantly male-dominated careers creates a barrier that many women struggle to break through.
By having men in STEM careers and positions there is a culture that develops that is male-centered. As a result, many women are hesitant to dive into the fields that are catered to men, even if they have exceptional abilities.
Karen Purcell, a professional engineer and owner of PK Electrical sees the struggle women face in a male-dominated field. She believes that there is a specific barrier established by men in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math fields that women are not accustomed to and uncomfortable with.
A successful engineer at her own company, Purcell strives to empower women to follow their dream of pursuing education and careers in the STEM field.
“By maintaining certain fields as male-dominated, we are allowing those cultures in those fields to be established and maintained by men” Purcell said.
Many women who strive to pursue STEM related career paths are not exposed to the workplace and the culture itself at an early age, as with other female-dominated professions.
Purcell describes the introduction to her engineering career began with an “accidental mentor,” and says she was aided through the process of discovering her passion in a male-dominated STEM field.
Purcell’s high school physics teacher noticed her skills in math and science and suggested she pursue an engineering degree.
Purcell later went on to receive a bachelor of science in electrical engineering from Widner University.
She accredits her success to her high school teacher giving her a push and encouraging her to follow a path that most women do not pursue.
Purcell suggests female professionals in STEM related careers act as mentors.
Many students, men and women, struggle to find their footing in any field and a helping hand can lead students to success and help them gain confidence as they enter the world of work.
She stresses that mentors themselves frequently find value through such experiences on professional and personal levels, since the mentor watches the student learn, change, and develop into the person they will be tomorrow.
“In my field, I strongly believe that women early in their engineering career and young women, those who don’t even know yet that they will become engineers, are unquestionably the future of our profession” Purcell said.
Katie Devore / Staff writer
Katie Devore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org