• 07/11/2013
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Women In Technology: Overcoming Obstacles to STEM Careers

As an engineer, Karen Purcell knows first-hand the challenges women face working in a STEM field. Her new book offers strategies for women to thrive in science and tech.

NWC: Are girls getting support to follow a STEM career these days??

One of the biggest hurdles we face is a lack of exposure to STEM for young girls. Primarily, the middle-school years are where it becomes critical. Fortunately, now there are programs out there where young girls are becoming more exposed to STEM careers. To get girls to participate in school and extra-curricular activities that are math- and science-based--if those are things they truly like--they should be encouraged to participate.

For example, at the University of Nevada, there's a girls in engineering camp, which is a week-long camp showing them all different kinds of engineering and what it's like to be an engineer. Having parent and teacher support for activities like that is what needs to continue.

Still, there's this underlying bias that exists; unfortunately, it's something we've all grown up with, where boys are led in that direction and girls not so much. Teachers, parents, guidance counselors need to remind themselves that if a girl shows an interest in math or science, that should be encouraged.

Young girls in middle school and high school can seek out mentors as well. If a girl has a mentor and she sees someone in a position that she someday strives to be in, it becomes more of a reality for her. Like [Yahoo CEO] Marissa Mayer--she sees her in that position and thinks, 'If she can do it, I can do it.' There definitely have been improvements, but more needs to happen.

NWC: What is STEMspire?

STEMspire was founded to support young women in STEM. The goal is to provide financial assistance for young women who are studying STEM in college or young women who want to start a STEM-related business. We'll also provide emotional support, someone to talk to, and activities in the community that are STEM-based to encourage girls to enter STEM. We started it last year; it's still very new and we're in the process of getting it organized.

NWC: What's your advice for a young woman starting to pursue an IT career?

I would say pick out a mentor. Become involved in organizations that are based on technology. Don't be intimidated; just get your mindset that you can do this. Don't let anyone tell you, 'You can't do this.'

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