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Women Respond (Slowly) to STEM Initiatives (Subscriber Content)

By John Seelmeyer
The 2017 March for Science. Image: Ty O'Neil.
The 2017 March for Science. Image: Ty O’Neil.

Ambitious initiatives to increase the number of women working in the so-called “STEM” careers — science, technology, engineering and math — are delivering some results in the Reno area.

The most recent figures from the U.S Census estimate that 2,651 women were working in computer, engineering and science positions in Washoe County in 2017. That’s a 4.8 percent increase from the 2,528 women working in the field two years earlier.

The number of women working in engineering and architectural positions in Washoe County — a subset of the larger group — increased by more than 9 percent, totaling 584 in 2017 compared with 535 two years earlier.

Even with those increases, however, the Census Bureau found that women held only 24 percent of the computer, engineering and science positions in the county in 2017. Among architectural and engineering positions, women held only 16 percent.

“We are making slow strides towards increasing the number of females in the STEM workforce with much effort,” acknowledged Judy Kareck, president of the Sierra Nevada Section of the Society of Women Engineers.

Forty years ago, she notes, only 6 percent of the engineers in the United States were women.

Today, everyone from Gov. Steve Sisolak to the Desert Research Institute to the Society of Women Engineers is focused on increasing the number of women in STEM fields.

The society, for instance, works with students as young as 6 to interest them in STEM careers.

“This is the best timeframe to teach young girls that they can be good at math and enter tech fields,” Kareck says.  The group carries through with programs that recognize top STEM performers among high school girls and celebrates those who graduate from UNR with STEM-related degrees.

Still, Kareck says the challenge is daunting because cultural stereotypes continue to discourage women from pursuing STEM careers.

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