Deaf Women in STEM
March 8th was International Women’s Day, and we’ve been wondering when was the last time you met a deaf female scientist, mathematician, engineer, or medical professional? Women already make up such a small percentage of the STEM workforce, so finding deaf women in STEM might seem impossible. You might be pleasantly surprised to learn that there are more around than you think.
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics make up the four fields that will have the most significant impact on our future and include some of the highest-paid professions in the world, from doctors to computer programmers and data analysts. Those in STEM are not only highly-skilled, they are also highly educated, and while more women are earning degrees than men, more men work in these positions than women.
According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, but only 28% of the science and engineering workforce. Even then, a higher concentration of women participates in social, biological, agricultural, and environmental life sciences compared to engineering, computer or mathematical sciences. What if we broke this down to look at the number of deaf women actively working in these fields? The percentage would shrink significantly.
CSD Learns, in collaboration with General Motors, created a webinar series designed to help students, parents, and educators foster deaf students’ interest in STEM. Participants hear from deaf professionals who serve as both role models and resources for deaf students around STEM education. In the latest edition of the series, three deaf women professionals shared how they got into their respective fields as well as the challenges and opportunities that they faced as women in their work. The panelists included three women in the science, technology, and engineering fields.
Meet our Women in STEM Panelists
Ashley is a Medical Lab Technician from Bowling Green, KY. Although she was interested in horticulture, science was never her favorite subject growing up. It wasn’t until her late teens that she discovered that she liked hands-on experiments and problem-solving. When she got to university, she eventually had to declare her major and chose biology. The field of biology was so broad and seemed to offer many different avenues of study. She became interested in lab work, where she could experiment with chemicals and specimens. After graduating, she found out about lab sciences and never looked back. What a great STEMinist!
Johanna was born in Germany to American parents. Growing up, she didn’t have access to language until she was nine years old. While she struggled to understand speech and language, she quickly picked up on mathematics. Eventually, Johanna became exposed to ASL and was better able to communicate, but says math was the first thing she understood. Her fascination with the subject, and her confidence in her ability to do it well, led her to explore other topics. When the opportunity to attend a nine-week Computer Science summer program came up, she jumped on the chance. This fostered her interest in coding. She would eventually intern at NASA, where she discovered a knack for engineering. Currently, as a STEMinist, she develops software for aircrafts at NASA’s Edwards Airforce Base in California.
STEMinist Melissa is a UX integration Designer for United Airlines. Growing up, she was always interested in art and design. She initially planned to study industrial design but instead followed in her parent’s footsteps to study architecture and urban planning. Her heart, however, was not in it, so she eventually started working for Apple. She liked the ability to problem solve with customers, which sparked her interest in technology and accessibility. During her grad studies in Urban Planning, she got the opportunity to study deaf space at Gallaudet and discovered a passion for the technical side of designing integrative experiences. This was the catalyst for her pursuit of a career in UX (user experience), which allows her to create accessible features for United Airlines to use in their aircrafts.
Three Things Your Can Do To Inspire Future STEMinists
1. Introduce role models
Sometimes seeing is believing. Films and media predominantly present men as leaders in STEM-related careers. Lack of deaf women in STEM can perpetuate the stereotype that women are not fit to do the same job. Although there have been increases in the number of females represented in science and medicine, it hasn’t been the same for technology and engineering. Fields that are still widely considered to be a boy’s club. This is equally true for the visibility of deaf women in these fields; however, there are more online resources and databases led by deaf women. Check out some of the following to find more:
2. Be champions for their success
Johanna experienced pushback when she was recommended for an advanced math class. Thanks to the advocacy of her parents, counselor, and even the Superintendent of schools – she was able to level up. Girls, especially deaf girls, may experience pushback due to doubts about their capabilities. Be ready to speak up and advocate for them in spaces and places that may not be ready.
3. Be a mentor
Whether you are an educator or someone working in any of those fields, take the lead on creating opportunities to foster your students’ interest in STEM. Take someone under your wing, provide them with an internship, start an after school club – whatever you can do to give extracurricular learning opportunities and support, do it.