The week, Yahoo announced its new CEO will be Marissa Mayer, Google’s first female engineer (who also happens to be seven months pregnant). At the helm of the Fortune 500 company, Mayer will be one of the most influential women in technology. She’s also likely to be a role model for young girls, showing them that a woman can break into the male-dominated field of engineering and computer science and be a leader. Christine Valle, director of Georgia Tech’s Women in Engineering program, is cautiously optimistic that Mayer’s appointment could change the tide and increase the number of women in STEM fields.
I think the announcement of Marissa Mayer as Yahoo’s CEO is wonderful. Obviously, there are very few female executives in high-tech firms. Any visibility that can be given to this serious problem is a good thing.
Overall, there is a dearth of women in computer science, engineering and programming. For two decades, many people have been working to change the image of engineering from a geeky, difficult career to one that can make a difference and solve the world’s challenges. The biggest impediment for having more women and underrepresented minorities is this image problem. We are missing out on talent and a diversity of thought.
Role models, like Mayer, are essential and so is outreach. Georgia Tech’s Women in Engineering Program, one of many entities involved in the effort, has programs devoted to outreach in K-12 schools. Students who are currently studying engineering are the best recruiters there can be. We send them into schools to talk to students as part of the Ambassador Program. We also have groups of girls coming to campus for engineering camps and short visits to learn about Georgia Tech. For females currently at Georgia Tech, we have a number of programs aimed to support them, such as peer-to-peer mentoring, seminars, networking events, scholarships, and career fairs. The goal is to get these women to stick with it.
Georgia Tech continues to lead the charge in increasing the participation of women in engineering nationwide, and graduates more female engineers than any other institution in the countryIn Georgia Tech’s College of Engineering, 24 percent of the students are women, versus 18 percent nationally. In spring 2011, 401 female students earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Georgia Tech.
Still, we have to do more. Research estimates you need 30 percent to change the dynamic. At 30 percent a minority group will not feel singled out. Some majors at Georgia Tech, like biomedical engineering, are well above that mark but others haven’t come close.
Marissa Mayer seems like a well-rounded individual who can give a face to engineering that will encourage other girls in the future. I’m cautiously optimistic that with the visibility of trailblazers such as Mayer and continued corporate engagement for outreach and pipeline efforts, we can see a critical mass of women choosing engineering majors, degrees and careers.
Image above: The Women in Engineering Program sponsored the Technology, Engineering and Computing (TEC) Camp at Georgia Tech this month. TEC Camp is designed to offer middle school girls an early introduction to the world of technology, engineering and computing. It is expected that this experience will inspire TEC campers to consider college majors and careers in these important fields.
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