Some companies get the message
The country's chief agency for space research is focused on creating future scientists -- male and female. "We think it's a problem, and we do what we can to ensure diversity," says Nahid Khazenie, program manager for college and precollege science education at NASA in Washington, D.C. "Obviously, women get the short end quite often. We highlight women scientists at NASA to offer girls role models."
Khazenie says NASA invests heavily in reaching out to students, conducting more than 300 programs across the country every year, spending $120 million on grants and educational programs.
It funds its own Education and Equal Opportunity division, along with the National Space Grant College & Fellowship Program, which provides tuition assistance to students studying math, science, technology and engineering. That program has awarded more than 12,000 scholarships and fellowships in 11 years -- 43% of them to women. Khazenie also notes that 53% of NASA's summer high school research program participants are girls. Add to this NASA's weekly online showcase of outstanding NASA women on its Web site, www.nasa.gov.
"I have a hard time finding the skilled resources in the IT market," says Kim Spencer, manager of Information Technology Services at Texas Instruments. "Diversity is welcome and needed so we can understand that there are different ways to solve a problem. We all bring something different to the table."
Texas Instruments is a sponsor of Women in Technology International (WITI), a professional association of women working in technology. The company also is active in local school systems, sending its female technologists into the schools to show off technology and its uses. "My daughter is an eighth grader, and she has started trying harder in math because she's interested in this now," Spencer says. "What will you use this geometry for? Now she has an answer."
With its own Women in Technology initiative, IBM is pushing hard to diversify its work force. "We have a societal stereotype that steers women away from IT," says Linda Scherr, program director for IBM's Women in Technology department. "If we can fix that, we can fix the shortage problem. I 'm not talking about an H-1B visa, short-term plan. I 'm talking about fixing this.
Scherr's 3-year-old initiative supports networks of technical women in an effort to negate any feelings of isolation. It also aims at providing female role models with a companywide platform. IBM sponsored the Conference for Technical Women last year, bringing 500 female technical leaders from IBM together from 29 different countries. IBM also is a strategic sponsor of MentorNet, a national electronic mentoring initiative connecting women who are studying engineering and related fields with women already in the industry.