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Built By Girls: How I Started in STEM

Despite accounting for around half of the employed US workforce, women in the United States made up only a third (34%) of those employed in STEM occupations in 2019 according to Women in STEM Statistics. Women with bachelor's degrees and higher largely contribute to this proportion, making up 44% of the STEM workforce.

Overall, the percentage of female graduates with core STEM degrees is steadily growing, however, the split is still just 26%. We wondered what sparks a passion for STEM - so we spoke to people in the field from Vice Presidents of Fortune 500 companies to school teachers raising the next generation of STEM minds in Yahoo’s Built By Girls nine-part interview series ‘How I Started in STEM.’

According to the Pew Research Center, representation of women in STEM jobs varies widely between professions. Women comprised 96% of speech language pathologists and 75% of health-related jobs but only 14% of engineering jobs. As these statistics show the job market for STEM fields is much broader than just lab beakers, data entry and coding.

As the Director of Vodafone, June Sugiyama has 30 years of experience in STEM and explains just how vast the opportunities are; “A tech career or a STEM career does not necessarily mean you wear a white lab coat and you're in a desk free lab or that you're sitting in a big office, communal office and code all day. A STEM career doesn't mean any of that. I see entrepreneurs who are working with kids and finding better ways for kids to learn who don't have the means to have computers. So what you might imagine STEM to be might not be. So my recommendation is to expand your mind and really find creative ways to follow your career path, whatever that you may imagine it to be.”

Women often find it hard to have their voices heard in a room, virtual or IRL, filled with men. Finding the right balance is essential when looking for happiness and a way to "fit in" to your STEM career. But as Kristy Lilas, VP of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at GoDaddy, told us diversity in the workplace brings more diverse ideas and more innovation. Lilas says that makes for a winning combination.

women in STEM workplace
women in STEM workplace

As a K-12 Computer Science Integration & Curriculum Development Expert as well as the founder and CEO of the nonprofit, The Dottie Rose Foundation Dr. Sharon Jones’ organization supports young women in the field of computer science and helps them find their voice. She told BBG about the difficulties of being a woman in tech and how that gap is changing.

“There's also still disparity amongst female non-binary representation in the STEM field

compared to the male population. So that makes it difficult sometimes for your voice to be heard, and to find the right spot. There are still mountains I personally have to climb when I'm thinking about wanting to implement an idea, or go forth and want to think about pushing forward a program. I think, though, the hardest part is the misconception that it's not for everybody. I need for people to understand that STEM is a place of great growth, innovation, and everybody's insights should be implemented into the next wave of innovation.”

"How I Started In STEM" is an original series by Built By Girls. You can watch full-episodes on our BBG YouTube channel.

How I Started in STEM: Coursera Chief Content Officer Betty Vandenbosch: Falling into STEM approach

How I Started in STEM: Capital One SVP on how to get your seat at “the table”

How I Started In STEM: How Ms. Pac-Man launched a career for Debbie Ferguson

How I Started in STEM: Helping Shape the Next Generation of Minds Through STEM

How I Started In STEM: Dr. Sharon Jones “There is a role for everyone in STEM”

How I started in STEM: A career in tech doesn’t mean white coats and office buildings

How I Started in STEM: Vizio VP Katherine Pond “Don’t be afraid to say YES

How I Started in STEM: VP Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at GoDaddy Kristy Lilas “Diverse teams are Innovative teams”

How I Started in STEM: Chief Marketing Officer at Upwork Melissa Waters “There is no straight career path