(WHTM) — The number of women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) has continued to grow. The industry is still male-dominated, but women now make up 27 percent.
However, a MetLife study in 2022 found those women are twice as likely to consider leaving their field. Some Midstate groups are trying to plug the hole.
Mechanicsburg native Julie Snyder was always interested in computer science, but a career in the field was not always in her future.
“I was not encouraged to go to college, let alone a STEM field,” Snyder said.
Still, she did go to college, studying business and computer science, and now serves as the CIO for nearly a dozen state agencies. However, when she started, not a lot of women worked in her field.
“That ability to have those mentors would have had me on my journey to success a lot faster,” Snyder said.
Snyder decided to help the next generation of women, becoming a mentor for the STEM-UP network at Harrisburg University.
“It’s really important to be able to give back and share the story,” she said.
“Those relationships sometimes go on for years, or indefinitely, and that provides you with the support,” STEM-UP network executive director Dr. Bili Mattes said.
Mattes said this mentorship program is one way STEM-UP tries to keep women in the field.
“In the first 10-12 years of their career in STEM, they go to other professions,” Mattes said.
Mattes said lack of opportunities, lower pay, and isolation are all reasons women leave, but STEM-UP’s focus on mentorship and developing leadership skills is paying off.
“We have had enough women in our organization go through…that now see themselves as leaders, have stepped up and are changing the leadership landscape,” she said.
OB-GYN Dr. Sharee Livingston is fighting a similar battle.
“The door is cracked but it needs to be widened,” Livingston said. “We’re seeing so many potholes where we’re losing students and learners who are interested in medicine.”
Livingston is trying to bring more people and women of color into medicine.
“I did not see many people in the sciences that look like me,” she said of her career path.
Data from the U.S. Census and the Association of American Medical Colleges shows less than three percent of physicians are Black women. The same is true for Hispanic women.
“This is going to be an uphill battle, but it is not insurmountable,” Livingston said.
Livingston runs the nonprofit Patients R Waiting, which seeks to eliminate health disparities, in part by diversifying the workforce in medicine.
One program is Pipeline Dreams, where Livingston and others work with high school students interested in medicine, preparing them for standardized tests and other requirements. Livingston said it is important to support these students early.
“We have to support them because they’re coming from disadvantaged backgrounds and so when they get into the pipeline, there are so many distractors,” she said.
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Livingston also said students need to be supported through their education and beyond as they start their careers as clinicians.
“Where they go to practice, are they supported? Do they see people in the community who have similar lived experiences?” Livingston said.
She said the workforce needs more doctors of color.
“Looking like the community that they’re serving is important because that similar lived experience helps to build trust, it helps to improve communication and overall, it helps to improve outcomes,” she said.