Tracing its origins back to a 1908 protest by women garment workers in New York, International Women’s Day now honors women's economic, political, and social achievements around the globe. In honor of International Women's Day 2013, which carries the theme "The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum," EC&M wants to bring your attention to books written by two women who have made great strides in the electrical industry.
Women’s History Month may only be once every year, but for electrician Cheryl Waiters, every single day is a reminder of the challenges she has faced — and overcome. In her inspiring memoir Blood, Sweat, and High Heels, Waiters chronicles her struggles and victories as an African American female working to overcome gender and racial biases in the male-dominated field of construction. Set against a backdrop of racial tensions, civil unrest, and social movements, Waiters’ candid personal accounts of some of the most significant events in the 20th century, such as the years of JFK, Martin Luther King, Women’s Liberation, and the Black Panthers.
Waiters has been a professional electrician for the past 22 years. She topped out as a journeyman and holds the distinction of working on some of America’s most important landmarks. She currently resides in Cleveland, and continues her work as an electrician.
According to Karen Purcell,P.E., founder, owner, and president of PK Electrical and author of Unlocking Your Brilliance: Smart Strategies for Women to Thrive in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, there is a gender imbalance when it comes to the science, technology, engineering, and math (or STEM) fields. One way to close the gender gap is mentoring.
“One of the most important confidence builders can be found day to day on the job or in school in the form of a mentor. Teaming with a mentor is a career strategy that can bring huge benefits, especially to women in unbalanced work environments like engineering. The majority of successful women time and time again credit their participation in some sort of mentorship for dramatically helping them reach their career goals.
“However, even with mentorship, the fact still remains that women in STEM careers have higher attrition rates than do their male coworkers and women in careers outside of the STEM disciplines. In 2005, the Society of Women Engineers conducted a retention study of over 6,000 engineering graduates. The survey indicated that one in four women were either unemployed or employed in other fields compared to one in ten men. Addressing the reasons why the attrition rates are drastically higher is important for starting the discussion and correcting the problem. Researchers are exploring other factors that possibly overwhelm women in STEM fields, including extreme work schedules, more frequent disciplinary actions, and unclear rules about advancement.
“Women are gaining numbers in traditionally male dominated fields, but they are still significantly outnumbered in STEM occupations. Getting talented women into male dominated careers is one struggle, while keeping them is another. The issue is especially apparent in STEM careers, which is extremely important to the global economy. Attracting and retaining more women in STEM careers will help tremendously to improve diversity, maximize creativity, and boost competitiveness.
“Having people with different mind-sets, capabilities, and imaginations on production teams improves the creative process and helps to minimize avoidable mistakes. Products rooted in science and technology are likely to better meet the needs of both men and women if the products are designed by team comprised of both genders. It is a matter of designing products that are compatible with a broad audience; it is a matter of safety; and it starts with attracting more women into STEM careers.
“As women become more prevalent in STEM careers, more and more young girls will begin to recognize the additional career opportunities open to them. With more women in the field, it will become more evident to young girls what they, as engineers, can offer the world. Without being able to see this link, they will continue to have problems envisioning certain positions as viable possibilities, even if they have some intrinsic interest in the subject matter. If girls cannot visualize themselves in STEM careers because they have never seen women in those positions, they will be much less likely to ever use their innate aptitudes and abilities in a math or science oriented specialty. That will truly be a loss of gigantic proportion, for our women, our profession and our country.”