Women are awarded more bachelor’s degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields than men in the United States, according to the National Science Foundation. Women also constitute a slim majority in graduate school enrollment in STEM fields (50.6 percent), according to the Council of Graduate Schools. Nevertheless, women remain underrepresented in STEM career fields, particularly in tech, engineering, and leadership positions.
One of the reasons for this is that women tend to leave STEM careers earlier and in greater numbers than men. However, research has shown that when female STEM workers have female colleagues, mentors, and role models, they’re much more likely to stay in their STEM fields and be more successful. Strengthening this dynamic through empowerment, inclusion and networking was the focus of the IEEE Women in Engineering International Leadership Summit at PNNL July 30.
More than 350 attendees from PNNL, the local community, the Pacific Northwest region, and institutions and tech companies across the country converged on PNNL’s Discovery Hall to participate in the day-long event. The summit featured keynote addresses from women in tech; thought-provoking panel discussions about challenges women face in these fields; and interactive sessions dealing with dynamics such as impostor phenomenon, the psychological pattern in which individuals doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.
“The summit turned out to be everything we hoped it would be and much more,” said Seemita Pal, senior power systems cybersecurity engineer at PNNL, vice-chair of the IEEE Women in Engineering Affinity Group of Richland Section and event organizer. “Our speakers were outstanding; the panels were engaging; and the energy in the room was through the roof. People left feeling inspired and empowered.”
Following a brief kickoff from PNNL Lab Director Steve Ashby, summit attendees heard from several speakers, including Debra Smith, CEO and general manager of Seattle City Light, one of the largest public utilities in the United States. Smith retraced her career path to executive leadership in the traditionally male-dominated utility industry, sharing lessons learned and breakthroughs achieved. “Let’s change the world,” Smith challenged the audience in her closing remarks.
The afternoon keynote address came from Amanda Blevins, senior director and chief technologist for VMware, the Palo Alto-based virtualization and cloud computing software provider, who challenged audience members to build their personal brand in furtherance of their career objectives. “Use your brand to achieve your goals. Be deliberate about your brand. It precedes you,” Blevins said.
The day also featured 30 student poster presentations covering a variety of scientific research. In addition to PNNL, the event received sponsorship support from Veolia, Washington State University, AECOM, Bechtel, Columbia Basin College, IEEE, and the Society of Women Engineers.