Celebrating Women Who Lead on International Women in Engineering Day

Ohio State University President and Ohio State College of Engineering Dean discuss their visions and priorities for the engineering field.

(Image courtesy of Ohio Ohio State University College of Engineering.)

The Women Who Lead conversation was held on June 23 in honor of International Women in Engineering Day. (Image courtesy of Ohio Ohio State University College of Engineering.)

“Women, underrepresented minorities… I want everybody to have an opportunity and a shot… We’re not going to do all these things overnight, but we’re going to start the journey. And we’re going to start the journey now,” says Kristina M. Johnson, Ph.D., the president of The Ohio State University, on stage at Women Who Lead. “We’ve made an impact. We have. I think we need to change the trajectory, which we can by coming together.”

In honor of the International Women in Engineering Day, Johnson joined Ohio State’s College of Engineering Dean Ayanna Howard to discuss the underrepresentation of women and to encourage not just females, but minorities to join the field of engineering. By connecting the socially distanced way (virtually), we celebrate the waves of female leaders who were empowered to make a change in this world and encourage young girls to pursue career opportunities in STEM.

“I think being different, there is a certain responsibility to succeed that I’m sure we all feel as women in engineering. We’re all leaders and the first in many things,” says Johnson.

Instead of focusing on the challenges that female engineers or engineering students go through daily, the Women Who Lead presentation focused on the solutions and promises for a brighter, more diverse future.

(Image courtesy of Ohio Ohio State University College of Engineering.)

Ohio State University President Kristina M. Johnson. (Image courtesy of Ohio Ohio State University College of Engineering.)

Johnson shared the strides that we already have made in terms of diversity, saying “when I was at Stanford, I had wonderful, really fantastic professors, but I would see no women, in any of my technical subjects… Fast forward to when I was dean and advising students, one of my advisees comes in, Mike, and sits down. I look at his schedule, all these professors and they’re all technical subjects taught by women.”

Indeed, society has come a long way from only a handful of females in the STEM field. Now, more than a quarter of American women earned a bachelor’s across all science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields and held a job in science and engineering. That being said, there are solutions to closing the gap between genders in engineering.

In the book, Good Guys: How Men Can Be Better Allies for Women in the Workplace, the author argues that men must also encourage women in STEM roles by working to ensure women are not excluded, confronting sexism and supporting a diverse work culture. Women and men should start introducing and integrating STEM into the lives of all children equally.

“Reach back and talk to the students and talk to the generation behind. A lot of times, even today, we have students and young professionals that are still fairly isolated,” says Howard.

Johnson shares a similar story, “a female graduate left me a card and it was describing an interaction we had two years earlier. She goes ‘you won’t remember, but you were walking into the engineering building and you saw me and you said, hello. At that moment, I figured, if you can do it, I can do it.’ And, that’s all it took. Sometimes it can be as simple as a word of encouragement at the right time, or a lot of words, reaching in and explaining.”

Society can create an environment for all genders to grow within the STEM field by eradicating stereotypes at an early age.

“It’s all about exposure, bringing things in, and just putting it in front of your young kids and your girls and working with them and encouraging them. You can bring the traditional female dolls and houses, but also bring them the soldering kits, electronic kits and robotic kits. Let them choose,” says Howard. “Some of the students come in and don’t realize they want to be engineers until they get here and we do not have the structure yet to ensure that they can enroll and be successful because they didn’t take the right classes in high school, which means they didn’t take the right classes in middle school, which I think is unfair. It’s about access. It’s about exposure.”

(Image courtesy of Ohio Ohio State University College of Engineering.)

Ohio State College of Engineering Dean Ayanna Howard. (Image courtesy of Ohio Ohio State University College of Engineering.)

While young girls currently have limited exposure to engineering, STEM opportunities can give girls the confidence and self-esteem to pursue job opportunities in the field despite any myths or misconceptions. It also helps them gain skills in computer science, math and intellectual self-confidence.

Despite all odds, Johnson leads by example through her inspiring journey. Through her 30 years of experience, she has served as chancellor of the State University of New York, secretary of energy at the U.S. Department of Energy, director of the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Optoelectronic Computing Systems at the University of Colorado and Colorado State University, as well as co-founded and served as CEO of Cube Hydro Partners.

Howard has an equally amazing journey. She is an accomplished roboticist, entrepreneur and educator. She is the first woman to be named dean of Ohio State’s College of Engineering. As the former chair of the Georgia Institute of Technology School of Interactive Computing in the College of Computing, founder and director of the Human-Automation Systems Lab and founder and president of the board of directors of Zyrobotics, a Georgia Tech spin-off company that develops mobile therapy and educational products for children with special needs, she is one of America’s Top 50 Women in Tech.

Women have had a long history working in engineering starting from the first World War. Since then, they have made strides throughout the past hundred years; however, there is still much more progress to be made. Each and every person has a role to be played to shape the future of engineering and encourage diversity.

You can watch the full conversation, here.