Supporting Women in STEM

Women in STEMSupporting Women in STEM

by Laura D. Smith, Marketing Manager, Benchmark Space Systems

Last month I had the honor of attending a Women in Space reception outside of the SmallSat Symposium in Silicon Valley. During the opening remarks the women commented on the increase of female speakers on the panels and as CEOs of aerospace companies. Years ago, women were few and far between, and are still vastly underrepresented. I am new to the industry and quickly realized I was walking into years of history and context that I did not yet appreciate.

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I was inspired to connect with the women of the Benchmark team and learn more about their experiences in STEM, through academia and the workforce. They are brilliant and I am in awe of their expertise.

Each one of them had a story about a particular challenge. While they noted that most of the issues were not intrinsically malicious, there are inherent norms that make it difficult for women to excel in STEM, such as:

  • A lack of female role models, especially for women of color

  • They expected to be one of the few females in their engineering courses but did not anticipate how the men in their classes would bond and connect rapidly outside of school, leading to shared opportunities and a stronger network.

  • Many of the men in the mechanical engineering tracks had grown up working on cars with their fathers and uncles, and already had years of experience and encouragement in this area.

  • Its challenging for companies to hire women, when 95% of the candidate pool is male, leading to a snowball effect of less women in the industry.

I respected their candor and immediately had a greater appreciation for what they've overcome.

So how do we begin to shift the climate to make STEM education and professional tracks more appealing to women? The Benchmark women had some tangible suggestions:

  • Mykaela was coached and learned about opportunities at Benchmark through the Brooke Owens Fellowship, which is "designed to serve both as an inspiration and as a career boost to capable young women and other gender minorities who, like Brooke, aspire to explore our sky and stars, to shake up the aerospace industry." The Patti Grace Fellowship is another excellent program that focuses on mentorship and community for Black undergrads seeking aerospace careers.

  • STEM summer camps are an excellent way to foster early exposure and community.

  • Samantha works with local female high school students, helping them explore opportunities and expose them to STEM-related careers.

  • Samantha and Jackie hosted a workshop for high school students, providing the opportunity to learn from of our team. About half the participants were women. Benchmark will continue to explore opportunities to connect with students before they decide on their higher ed track.

  • It's important to create a supportive environment for women in the workplace and partner them with female mentors that they feel comfortable sharing their experiences and challenges with as they progress through their career.

  • And there are the less tangible aspects like providing STEM exposure to young girls through the toys they are offered, the language we use and the examples we share.

We will continue to explore these challenges together and welcome the opportunity to hear from other women in the industry. We encourage you to comment below and share your experiences. May we all support each other, during Women's History Month and well beyond.