Betty Shanahan- Executive Director & CEO of SWE
Betty Shanahan became the executive director and CEO for the 20,000 member Society of Women Engineers (SWE)
in 2002. Previously, Betty spent 24 years in development, engineering management, and marketing management for the electronics and software industries. Betty has earned a B.S. in electrical engineering from Michigan State University, a Master of Software Engineering from the Wang Institute of Graduate Studies, and an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago. Betty participates in forums that advance the engineering profession, including the National Academy of Engineering’s committee for “Changing the Conversation” in the public understanding of engineering.
Why do you believe STEM Education and Workforce are important to our nation?
Recent reports, such the National Academies’ report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, concluded that increasing the number of students entering and succeeding in the STEM fields was critical to prepare our nation for the future. The foundation of US competitiveness in the global economy is the innovation fueled by STEM professionals. But approximately two-thirds of our future workforce – women, people of color, and people with disabilities – remains minimally tapped as a source of future engineers. For example, women have earned 58% of all bachelor's degrees since 2002 and they have earned about half of all science and engineering bachelor’s degrees since 2000. But the participation of women varies greatly between STEM disciplines. For example in 2009 women earned only 18% of engineering degrees.
The value of increasing the participation in engineering of women and other under-represented populations goes beyond increasing headcount. The full participation of all segments of the American population is necessary to realize the value of diversity. Innovation will flourish when the richness of different perspectives, approaches, experiences, and values are leveraged as a workplace team collaborates in creative ways to generate new ideas. To be globally competitive, we must take advantage of our competitive advantage – our nation’s diversity.
What can we do to assure more women leaders in STEM?
More women leaders – and leaders from other demographics under-represented in STEM – will emerge when current leaders in industry, government, and academia invest in changing organizational culture. Attrition of women in engineering today has much to do with a culture that presents subtle obstacles rather than the overt discrimination of the past.
Recent studies, such as Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering and STEMMING the TIDE: Why Women Leave Engineering remind us that women and girls still face barriers to their success during academic preparation for STEM careers and in the engineering workforce.
For female students, unwelcoming classrooms, outdated teaching styles, and a lack of accommodation for different social or cultural experiences can all add up to create an environment that students decide to leave rather than thrive in. This affects all students, men as well as women. However, students who are already marginalized as “non typical,” or who are severely under-represented, as are women in engineering, experience these adverse environments more keenly.
For women who complete engineering studies, research indicates that the workplace climate was a strong factor in their decisions to not enter engineering after college or to leave the profession of engineering. Workplace climate also helped to explain current engineers’ satisfaction and intention to stay in engineering. Research shows that women engineers who worked in companies that valued and recognized their contributions and invested substantially in their training and professional development, expressed greatest levels of satisfaction with their jobs and careers.
In addition to programs for women to support their retention and advancement in engineering studies and workforce, the Society of Women Engineers advocates with government, academic institutions and employers to invest in creating climates where each individual can authentically contribute. The return on that investment will be greater innovation and creativity.