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Women Engineers Focus on Retention (Subscriber Content)

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

Lots of attention is paid these days to ensuring that girls and young women are prepared for careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Equally important, a professional organization says, is retention of women once they’re in those careers.

The Sierra Nevada Section of the Society of Women Engineers puts significant effort into retention efforts, noting that women today account for about 20 percent of university graduates in engineering, a percentage has remained constant for the past decade.

Once new graduates are in the workforce, women face issues that include lack of opportunities for career growth, negative office cultures, poor management, lack of opportunities for career growth and employers’ inflexibility on work-life balance, the SWE chapter says.

And some women face outright discrimination and harassment.

The organization seeks to bolster retention of women in STEM careers in multiple ways, working both with employers and with public-policy leaders.
At a national level, the group works to enforce and strengthen federal laws on equality, affirmative action and employment.


“The presence of women in leadership positions in STEM-related companies will encourage younger female engineers to make a commitment to the profession and set their sights on leadership positions.”


Locally, members of SWE work with employers, encouraging them to provide mentoring, offer training to overcome workplace discrimination and improve work-life balance — which, the group notes, benefits men as well as women in STEM fields.

Companies that build diverse workforces often are more profitable, SWE members say, because recruitment and retention of a diverse workforce brings a wider variety of outlooks that translates into quicker decision-making.

Informal connections also are important.

The support and networking available in the Reno area through professional organizations such as SWE helps women in STEM careers share experiences and develop strategies to overcome workplace challenges. Professional organizations also present a national and international face for women in STEM careers.

SWE members note the changing mix of companies in the Reno-Sparks area — more tech-related companies seem to arrive every week — also helps with recruitment and retention of women in STEM-related careers.

As region’s technology sector grows, and as efforts to attract more women into the tech fields continue, younger women will see more women working in technology careers. That, in turn, will further bolster recruitment and retention initiatives.

And the presence of women in leadership positions in STEM-related companies will encourage younger female engineers to make a commitment to the profession and set their sights on leadership positions, SWE members say.

They acknowledge that progress sometimes feels slow, but they say retention of women engineers and STEM professionals appears to be on the rise.

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