Brandeis Innovators Share Strategies in STEAM Diversity at NewCo Boston-For MassTLC

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Image Source: https://www.brandeis.edu/innovation/in-the-news/newsletter-articles/2018SPARKTank.html

On April 11, Brandeis University opened its doors to the Boston innovation community as part of NewCo Boston.

Brandeis Innovation organized the program, which featured a demo from the MakerLab, as well as, a panel. The topic was diversity in STEAM. Associate Provost for Innovation Rebecca Menapace and Makerlab head Ian Roy were joined by an outside speaker, Jessica Yu, Human Factors Engineer at MITRE. Ms. Yu previously steered MITRE’s college recruitment efforts, so it was fitting that she joined the panel to look at ways that employers can increase representation in STEAM jobs.

A lively, thoughtful panel of Menapace, Roy, and Yu shared personal stories of their own careers as STEAM professionals.They shared relatable experiences: being the only woman in the room and not feeling heard, being multiracial and being perceived as different races in different contexts, and contending with stereotypes with grace and strength. They then segued into what we can do, as professionals, to make everyone welcome in STEAM. All were strategies that the panel had implemented in their own work, and found effective:

  1. Offer flexibility and don’t make assumptions. Women often find themselves excluded from STEAM because of outside responsibilities. Make work flexible and know that workers who work flex hours are just as dedicated as those who work traditional ones.
  2. Start early, with formal programs: Yu initiated programs that brought students into the workplace, to help see themselves in STEAM careers. These programs need to have strong organizational support. Ad hoc programs are great, but it’s the formal programs that indicate institutional support for diversity and have the traction to make change happen.
  3. Include everyone’s voice in daily work: Menapace spoke of her years in biotech as the “only woman in the room,” reflecting on how women don’t see themselves at the boardroom table. This can lead to fighting for opportunities to be heard, and contribute ideas. It’s up to leadership to make space for all, ensure that no one is talked over or their voices minimized. If you are in a leadership role, be mindful of who is speaking and who isn’t. Create space for all to speak.
  4. Think beyond labels: Roy took the conversation to a philosophical level, connecting diversity to advances in technology that move us beyond ourselves. Soon, we will be able to participate in the workforce via virtual reality and interact with artificial intelligences as colleagues. “We’re more than just our containers,” noted Roy, adding that today’s students will see a world where gender, ethnicity, and ability will be presented differently, if at all, as workers engage virtually. Thinking ahead to that future helps us think now about how we would engage with others if we didn’t even know about their “containers.”

At once futuristic and practical, the session left a strong impression on the audience, who ranged from area executives to local high school students. Participants called the session “amazing,” noting they wanted to hear more from the speakers.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math–many add Arts as well) are growing at nearly double the national average for job growth, with above-average wages. Ensuring that everyone has access to the good jobs of the future is critical. The April 11 panel sponsored by Brandeis Innovation fueled the momentum for local employers who wish to ensure that STEAM’s growth benefits all equally.