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deutsche Frauen in der Technik

Tuesday 28 January, 2014

I checked out this event last month “Engaging Women in STEM: Perspectives from the United States and Germany,” which was sponsored by the German Center for Research & Innovation in the German consulate just across from the UN in New York. Apparently they are streaming this as long as it stays up, so I’ll just provide highlights here.

The bottom line benefit to women getting involved in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) is that women think differently, & these disciplines could use new lines of thought.  We need disruptive ideas & more of those come from more diversity, just as we need to do a better job of translating basic research into better applied research, & then developing that into market-ready products.

Despite the Apollo effect of Kennedy’s increase in NASA’s budget resulting in more PhD’s, mostly men, it’s telling, & perhaps disappointing, that the 1st woman in space came from the USSR.

Germany’s German Aerospace Center (DLR) is the German equivalent of America’s NASA, plus energy, transport, & security.  It has a budget of 1.8B € for 32 institutes on 16 sites.  They’ve provided equal opportunities for women for the last 10 years, in which women have taken 30% of all positions, & a division to keep watch over this since 2008, & a Chief Diversity Officer who sits on the Board of Directors.

BrainGate2 was cited as a good example.

In addition to commonly-accepted mentoring by senior leaders of aspiring junior level employees, perhaps we should consider reversing the hierarchy & have juniors mentor the seniors on new technologies with which they are more familiar.

Many things are changing which should encourage women to get more involved in STEM, such as changing demographics, traditional gender roles, reconciling work & home life, a skilled worker shortage, increasing cultural diversity, & last but not least, legislation.  The potential benefits of changes in policy are increased opportunities for women, employers being viewed as more attractive workplaces, & organizations simply becoming more creative.  Structure follows strategy, so a key is changing the mindset to balance reality with innovation.  Women are underrepresented in STEM for societal, individual, & organizational reasons.  There are implementation, responsibility, & cultural issues.  Vicious circles which enforce unwritten laws or codes from dominant insiders conspire to keep women down.  Commitment to change & including all stakeholders are critical success factors.

Women have a great societal impact on engineering.  Their diversity leads to increased creativity, which encourages innovation.  Role models, mentoring, networking, non-profit associations, & starting early all encourage women in this direction.  i2e or innovation, invention, & entrepreneurship should keep students from getting distracted.  The Urban Assembly is a good example of an organization which has promoted women in this area. (The CEO of my 1st employer Xerox, Ursala Burns, is a graduate of Brooklyn Poly) The bottom line is we must change the mindset of society to make a change in this direction.

Panel Q&A

A girls-only robotics lab reached the same results as boys, but with a different approach.  Girls ask “why?”, while the boys simply break it down or destroy it to understand it.

Open Q&A

There is no magic formula, although the necessity is clear.  We need an Artemis effect for women, just as we had an Apollo effect for men.

60% of medical students are female.  German women are successful in civil engineering, but no women sit on the board of DLR.  Although other women were offered the opportunity, the panel still consisted of 2 men & 1 woman.

Women in STEM is similar to women in finance.  Families must be made compatible with work.  Women with children should no longer be stigmatized.  We need an attitudinal shift.  STEM participation is too low for both men & women.  Secondary education must be revamped.

We had this same discussion in 1978.  Women drop out of these areas early.  We need to be honest with ourselves.

Does society really value STEM?  We need to change child care so that women can come back to their jobs.  Change will come when men care for their kids.  Daughters need to ask “What can I do with technology?”  There are many piecemeal solutions @ the policy level.

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