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From the shadows to the shining light of Women in STEM

By PATRICIA MALONE

Leadership programs are in high demand, and for several years the Center for Corporate Education has conducted many.

However, in our discussions with companies, organizations and campus leaders, an emerging theme was heard repeatedly, regarding gender inequality – especially in leadership roles – and the difficulty of recruiting and retaining women, particularly in STEM.

So we pondered: Should we develop a gender-specific program – and, if so, how should we assess our institutional strengths and regional needs, and offer something unique?

The reasons for gender inequity in the workplace are multifaceted and quite complex, but in STEM, even more so. We felt compelled to understand them. Many questions came to mind.

Why did women enter STEM fields, or not enter them? How are/were they supported? What happened when they started working? How did different work environments affect their growth and retention? What were companies doing right and wrong?

Determined to develop something different, impactful and aligned with our mission of access and opportunity, we approached the initiative strategically. It was incredible to watch our community of support evolve and grow. The brand and strength of Stony Brook University – its vital role in global research, education and economic development – positioned us to create something unique, and we wanted to use our position to move the needle, to make a difference in the lives of many women and in their organizations.

It was time. We could do this!

For two years, we assessed what would comprise relevant content for experienced and emerging women in STEM. Instructors were vetted from across the country, and we were astounded by the passion they shared for our vision. Our interactions were nothing short of inspirational – moving us forward, leaving us better informed, and showing us we’d touched upon something very important.

We learned of the struggles and hardships individuals and organizations had in overcoming bias, forming measurable strategies, changing cultures, creating supportive networks, breaking down barriers and much more. We saw tremendous concern, pain and struggle alongside the compassion and commitment to do what was right.

So much was revealed in our dialogue with faculty, staff and corporate/public partners. The economic imperative to hire and promote women into key organizational roles was clearly important to an organization’s health, growth and innovation. We learned much about the critical areas necessary to address and the need for ongoing support and education in changing the cultural narrative that has fostered these barriers.

At long last, the Center for Corporate Education launched the Women in Stem Leadership (WSL) Program in 2018. The outstanding support resulted in a successful inaugural group of 26 scientists and engineers representing nine organizations, including three national labs and three utilities.

Three days of immersive lectures, workshops, panels and group dynamics created the early community of our WSL Program. Ongoing coaching, meetups and talks were offered to keep the support and networking going. A second cohort of 25 participated in 2019; today, we continue to learn, enhance and support the ongoing impact and value for our women in the STEM community.

Momentum has grown. We convened forums of more than 200 energy professionals in Manhattan and 100 on Long Island. Our voices and supporters have created a rich dialogue on removing implicit biases, implementing thoughtful and strategic recruitment plans and creating measurable outcomes for a more equitable and diverse workplace.

Our Spring 2022 program will support greater diversity for underrepresented women, as well as a new non-gender specific program for Emerging Leaders of Color. We are excited to partner with Brookhaven National Laboratory and several Women in STEM advisory board members; plans are underway for a viable mentorship community.

Our Fundamentals of Offshore Wind program recently attracted women in ship design, utility distribution, environment/coastal protection, government, education and more, representing 22 percent of all participants (we need to get this to 50 percent!).

Stony Brook is committed to offering the resources necessary to move us forward. We have only just begun!

A few years ago, it was a workforce problem, an issue minimized or not addressed at all; now it has become everyone’s’ concern. We all have a part to play in fostering the opportunities and environments for prosperous careers for women in STEM.