Vail Daily column: Help support development of women in science, tech | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Help support development of women in science, tech

Lauren Y. Casteel

Close to 30 years ago, I received a stark reminder to always check myself for implicit biases — stereotypes that we may not realize we have. I was the only out-of-town member of a good friend's bridal party. Upon climbing into the limo with the other bridesmaids, I sat down next to a beautiful woman. Wanting to be friendly and engaging, I asked her what she did.

"I'm preparing for flight," she said.

"Oh, are you a flight attendant?" I asked.

"No," she replied without elaboration.

Our STEM Coalition is committed to creating an influx of skilled STEM workers and opening the doors to greater innovation for our businesses while simultaneously increasing economic self-reliance for historically under-represented populations.

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"Oh, I'm sorry. You must be a pilot!" I said.

"No, I'm not a pilot," she replied, clearly amused at this point.

I was stumped.

"I'm an astronaut," she said finally.

The woman I was talking to was Mae Jemison, who would become the first African-American female to travel in space. I wanted to fall out of the car.

Being an African-American woman myself, I couldn't believe the assumptions I had made. Was it her age, her gender, her beauty or her race that were barriers to my thinking? Or was it all of the above? Or was it that most of us never actually hang out with an astronaut?

I'm sharing this personal tale because in order to foster diversity and inclusion of women and girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), we all must be vigilant and continue to second guess the assumptions we make because they are a contributing factor to why women and girls aren't staying in STEM fields.

Creating Greater Opportunities

At The Women's Foundation of Colorado, one of our focus areas is preparing, retaining and helping women and girls succeed in STEM careers, from aeronautics to agriculture, and with two-year degrees to PhDs. These types of careers offer higher lifetime earnings, smaller wage gaps compared to other industries and greater entrepreneurial opportunities.

Colorado is at the top of states that are experiencing STEM career growth and is projected to remain there for the next decade, and women and girls must be welcomed into this growth opportunity. Currently, women make up nearly half of Colorado's workforce, but hold less than a third of STEM jobs in the state.

According to a recent study published by the Harvard Business Review, there are four major biases pushing women out of science. They are:

• Having to provide more evidence of competence to prove themselves to others.

• Colleagues suggesting that they should work fewer hours after having children.

• Feeling pressured to play a stereotypically female role.

• Feeling at odds with other women in workplaces that are predominantly male.

• Black and Latina women report experiencing a fifth type of bias, which is isolation from colleagues.

So what are we doing to change things at The Women's Foundation of Colorado?

About Our STEM Coalition

Along with generating awareness about implicit bias and its damaging effects, we have formed a STEM Coalition of companies and individuals who will provide resources, conduct research and then facilitate the systemic changes required in our education system, job skills training and corporate culture to impact positive change for the recruitment and retention of women and girls in STEM.

Our STEM Coalition is committed to creating an influx of skilled STEM workers and opening the doors to greater innovation for our businesses while simultaneously increasing economic self-reliance for historically under-represented populations.

We — along with our STEM Coalition — also have joined forces with the Colorado Education Initiative to oversee the implementation of the gender equity components of the Colorado STEM Education roadmap.

We welcome your support in leading change and building resources for women and girls in STEM. In addition to joining the movement to challenge implicit biases that affect women and girls in STEM, one of the most immediate ways you can make a difference is to join us for The Women's Foundation of Colorado's Annual Vail Valley Luncheon on Aug. 12, where keynote speaker NASA Astronaut Anna L. Fisher will impart her first-hand experience as a woman in STEM and her thoughts on how we can work together to commit to inclusiveness.

I only wish I had the opportunity to hear from her before I met Mae Jemison!

Lauren Y. Casteel is president and CEO of The Women's Foundation of Colorado.

If you go …

Who: The Women’s Foundation of Colorado – Vail Valley Regional Committee

What: Annual Luncheon & Raffle with Keynote Speaker NASA Astronaut Anna. L. Fisher (M.D.)

When: Aug. 12, 11 a.m.-1:45 p.m. New this year: WFCO Cafe coffee bar and bucket raffle from 11 a.m.-12 p.m.

Where: Vail Marriott Mountain Resort, Vail.

For ticket purchase or community partnerships, visit http://www.wfco.org/vailluncheon