PCWorld: It's obvious why these challenges are a problem for women, but why are they also a problem for the fields themselves? Why would IT, for example, benefit from the involvement of more women?
Purcell: Many jobs within the STEM fields focus on designing products and materials that aim to advance our experiences and allow us to live safer lives. Therefore, it is critical to have a strong female presence to ensure that products and materials are developed to benefit both genders. Without the involvement of women in these fields, product designers may easily overlook needs that are specific to women.
Examples of this are evident in the design of past products. For instance, when voice recognition was first becoming popular, the systems were calibrated to recognize male voices because only males were designing the products. Because of this, womens voices were unrecognized when they tried to use the various systems.
PCWorld: What do you think needs to happen in order for there to be a more balanced proportion of men and women in this area? Could it--and should it--ever be 50/50?
Purcell: Early exposure to math and science for young girls is essential. Young adults are inquisitive and may end up in STEM fields for a variety of reasons, but early, sustained exposure to these fields and encouragement would result in more informed women making more precise college decisions.
More than that, it would help young women understand that their gender shouldnt determine the career path they choose, that pursuing a STEM career doesnt make them any less feminine. Girls often fall off the STEM grid and we need to figure out how to keep them engaged and how to give them the exposure, guidance, encouragement, and resources they need, and that our male counterparts get.
In engineering only about 10% are women. Through encouragement, exposure to STEM, and support to young women, one day we may get to the 50% level.
PCWorld: What can women do to make their way easier on this career path?
Purcell: Read my book. Unlocking Your Brilliance specifically provides common hurdles that women face in a STEM career and suggests strategies to overcome those hurdles.
PCWorld: What should companies do to attract and retain more women?
Purcell: Offer mentoring programs. A mentor can make transitions into a new position or company smoother. Mentors can also be a long-lasting resource of information. Finding a mentor early can do wonders for the amount of satisfaction that anyone, male or female, finds on the job.