For as long as civilization has been in existence (and perhaps even before then), people have looked to the night sky for guidance and inspiration. Of course, many of the constellations we gaze upon have historically been named by male astronomers — but on Tuesday (September 19) night, it was women in STEM fields who dominated the celestial playing field.
At least, this was the case at New York City’s Grand Central. Thanks to a stunning new installation created by General Electric, the achievements of 12 “unseen stars” — or, women who made significant contributions to science and engineering — took center ceiling. Put on as part of the company’s Balance the Equation initiative, GE hopes the show will educate the public about women’s STEM impact and perhaps even encourage more young women to consider careers in these fields.
During a panel moderated by Glamour Magazine’s Cindi Leive that kicked off the night’s events, speakers shared some of the biggest obstacles and frustrations that have routinely kept science’s female stars from being seen.
“The universe doesn’t divide subjects (based on gender), but we do,” Megan Smith, the United State’s first female chief technology officer, said. “We have a weird stereotype that there are technical people and there are non-technical people, and that’s just not true. Practice makes permanent — let's get everyone practicing every part of the orchestra.”
Improving women scientists’ representation, as with GE’s Grand Central installation, Smith added, is also key if we’re going to see more girls entering the STEM fields.
“Today, there are 15 to 1 boy programmers to girl programmers when children watch TV,” she said. “We’re ‘smurfing’ where we have one girl, or ‘minioning,’ I call it, where we have zero girls… We want all of our children, when they’re trying to solves problems, to feel confident.”
Empowering more girls to study and pursue careers in STEM is one crucial component of balancing the equation. Of course, efforts must also be made to address the barriers women face upon entering this line of work, as fellow panelist and New Harvest CEO Isha Datar pointed out.
“The thing that frustrates me most is that I regularly see men get funded based on promise and women only get funded based on progress,” Datar, a noted pioneer in cellular agriculture, said. “Women are asked to prove themselves before they get the job whereas employers are willing to take a risk on a man.”
And to believe that male employees pose less risk than women isn’t just outdated — it’s also patently false.
"Every hiring decision is a risk, every investment is a risk,” Datar said. “I think we should just take more risks on women."
Of course, changing the common course of hiring decisions will prove difficult without more men understanding and accepting their own culpability, panelist and Chief Economist of GE Marco Annunziata said.
“Men have to be part of the initiative to make it clear that this is a meritocracy,” Annunziata said. “If you’re a manager, give a closer look at women candidates for hiring and promotions, because the implicit bias is there.”
GE's "Unseen Stars" installation will continue showing at Grand Central's main concourse from 6 a.m. to midnight on Wednesday (September 20) and Thursday (September 21).
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