Science is an extremely male-dominated profession. Kansas City’s Central Exchange wants to shift the field one woman at a time.
Central Exchange, a local, professional women’s networking organization, launched the WiSTEMM—Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Medicine—initiative to create a networking opportunity for current STEMM professionals and educate young women on careers in these often male-dominated fields.
The Central Exchange also offers a variety of personal and professional development and networking opportunities for its 900-plus members across the greater Kansas City area. Through WiSTEMM, the organization hopes to uncover the challenges to women in STEMM and their potential solutions by engaging smart, local women in various forums.
“We decided to incubate the topic, because we had a number of members in STEMM careers interested in dealing with this issue. We also saw that there was not a central presence tackling this problem in Kansas City,” Cici Rojas, president and CEO of Central Exchange, says.
At just six months old, WiSTEMM’s recent panel discussions have proved successful in highlighting a mission statement for the initiative. This statement outlines a set of goals, which emphasize the importance of creating networking opportunities for STEMM professionals, events centered on educating the public and speakers to inspire and provoke changing attitudes.
“A lot of women are attracted to groups like ours, because they are interested in networking with other women in STEMM professions. We have found that it doesn’t need to be an industry specific group to work. Simply having a peer network eases the strain of a STEMM workplace,” Rojas says.
Sarah Hebert, CEO and creative director at Curious Pixel, is an active member of the WiSTEMM committee. Herbert is also co-founder of Hack of the Sexes, an event that promotes gender diversity in technology by building practical, open source solutions to civic problems in the technology and thriving entrepreneurial community in Kansas City.
“We’re already seeing a growing number of women in these fields, but there’s more work to be done. Career-wise, women can shatter the glass ceiling with some simple advice,” Sarah Hebert, CEO of Curious Pixel
Exposure to STEMM careers for women, if they are introduced at all, usually appears in high school, which could be too late. Ideally, elementary age children should be exposed to these fields and encouraged to consider them as potential professions.
Teachers and family members, along with classroom speakers, job shadowing and also mentoring programs, can all encourage girls interested in STEMM careers. The creation of this environment begins with the organization of STEMM professionals.
“Not only does a group like WiSTEMM provide networking for professionals, but it is also a great way for us to educate and create awareness in the public sphere, which makes us better able to educate young people,” Rojas says.
The advice Hebert offers to women in STEMM includes being as educated as possible about your industry and your job. She also suggests that women should not believe in stereotypes and to not respond out of emotion whenever they encounter professional “pushback.” Most important of all, Hebert says, women should take advantage of the innate talent they have to look at the big picture and assemble a number of solutions at once.
“This is one feminine characteristic you can use to your advantage to excel,” Hebert says.
WiSTEMM is led by Anna Randazzo. Contact her at Anna.Randazzo@SpencerReed.com