Courtesy Monica Moman-Saunders, Jackie Mattox and Roberta Rincon

Changemakers: Expanding our Understanding of the STEM Field

Oct. 30, 2023
Lifting up some of the amazing women who shared their expertise in Machine Design’s WISE (Workers in Science & Engineering) series in 2023.

Nothing makes a goal seem more achievable than seeing others have done it—and that they want to help you to succeed as well. Yet, women continue to be underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Over time, the gender imbalance has been shown to be a reflection of underlying issues rooted in bias and discrimination that have resulted in far-reaching consequences on the personal, economic and future well-being of communities and the industries they serve.

Women remain underrepresented in engineering (15%), computer (25%) and physical science (40%) occupations, according to Pew Research Center. In cutting edge fields such as artificial intelligence, only one in five professionals (22%) is a woman.

Another study investigated the importance of exposure to innovation and estimated that if girls had the same number of women inventor role models as boys have of male inventors, the gender gap in innovation could be cut in half. Might that suggest that without intervention and active discussion, the industry will continue to perpetuate the same biases that reinforce stereotypes?

READ MORE: DEI Roundtable: Key Associations Highlight Progress and Next Steps

An important aspect of drawing more women to STEM roles is letting them know that they belong. Machine Design’s Workers in Science & Engineering (WISE) hub is grounded in covering workplace issues affecting equity-seeking groups. The coverage reinforces a commitment to help the industry create a more equitable landscape for current and future generations.

Greater scrutiny of the data will show why representation and intersectionality matters, pointed out the Society of Women Engineers’ (SWE) associate director of research, Roberta Rincon. “We are a gender equity organization, but there are other identities that we want to acknowledge, and part of that acknowledgment is looking at the data,” she said.

Rincon highlighted during a virtual roundtable that organizations that are serious about their DEI efforts and about diversifying engineering and technology would benefit from disaggregating data from their research and across the general population, as it exposes prevailing gaps in the education system and across the workforce.

“Black women are earning only about 1% of all engineering degrees right now, but they represent 6% or 7% of the U.S. population,” she said. A cluster of data that shows only 14% of working engineers are women, or that 22% of bachelor’s degrees earned in engineering are women, elicits a different understanding of where the needs lie than when the data is broken down, because the majority of those degrees are being earned by certain subpopulations.

“That prompts us to look at the educational pathways that we have been ignoring, whether that is the minority-serving institutions or the community colleges and the technical colleges looking at—not just bachelor’s degrees in engineering and computer science—but also engineering technology,” Rincon explained. 

READ MORE: Reaching Gender Equity in STEM Professions

If we’re going to make systemic change, she added, it is necessary to create inclusive cultures and environments that are welcoming to all in engineering, manufacturing and technology.

“Data is critical, I am convinced,” reflected Jackie Mattox, founder, president and CEO, Women in Electronics. “But if the heart isn’t in check, if there’s not actual authentic intent, that means nothing. I believe that when we can educate on the heart of the matter, we will open up opportunities to collect all the data. So, educate as much as possible, and have patience and grace.

Many organizations Machine Design interviewed this year, including SWE, Women in Electronics and ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers), reported how DEI is showing up in their organization’s strategic plans. “We are advancing DEI internally through volunteer engagement and by providing accommodations for people with disabilities, by fostering inclusivity in event participation, enhancing inclusivity for working parents and supporting women and career empowerment,” said Monica Moman-Saunders, professional engineer and fellow at ASME. “We know that we must be diligent. This change is not going to happen overnight, so we must be…fast and consistent.”

By way of thanks, Machine Design is showcasing a sampling of the 2023 WISE series virtual participants who volunteered their time and shared expertise on developing a robust channel of skills from all walks of life. Not only do the women featured below represent a diverse range of talent, creativity and possibility in STEM careers but, moreover, they are also committed to doing the work of building a sustainable future so no-one is left behind.

We are all better for their efforts.

READ MORE: Workplace Culture: Do Your ERG Efforts Reflect the Experiences of Your Workforce?

1. Roberta Rincon, Associate Director of Research, Society of Women Engineers

Dr. Roberta Rincon is the associate director of research for SWE, where she oversees the organization’s research activities on gender equity issues affecting girls and women in engineering, in education and career. She received her B.S. in civil engineering from The University of Texas at Austin, an MBA and an M.S. in information management from Arizona State University, and a Ph.D. in Educational Policy and Planning from UT Austin.

Machine Design: What keeps you motivated to continue the work that you do?

Roberta Rincon: I’ve been with SWE for seven years, and I’ve got to say that I just feel that this is this is such an important time. We have organizations at the national level—not just here in the United States, but in other parts of the world—that are paying attention to diversity, equity and inclusion. They are tying funding to some of this work and bringing greater recognition to the contributions of those who have been overlooked historically.

We’ve got to take advantage of this time and push these initiatives that we believe are going to create the systemic change needed to create the inclusive climate and culture within these STEM spaces that are just missing, and causing a lot of individuals to choose either not to enter or to leave before they reach those executive levels, where they can really make the change that’s needed.

2. Jackie Mattox, Founder, President and CEO, Women in Electronics

Jackie Mattox is the founder, president and chief executive officer of Women in Electronics, headquartered in Southern California. Mattox started her career in the electronics industry during college at a small rep firm in the area, where she worked her way into the roles of sales and distribution manager and took a passionate interest in strategic key account management. Mattox graduated from California State University, Northridge with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication/journalism.

MD: What keeps you motivated to continue the work that you do?

Jackie Mattox: I would just have to say, women like the ones on this panel, are so inspiring…and, being a part of the change. We’re in a pivotal time. To have the opportunity to be a part of systemic change is really valuable to me. This is what I do with women in electronics. It is just who I am. It’s a calling—you can’t not do it. I’m so passionate about it…I don’t want to just go around talking about things or making all kinds of money. I want to make an impact, and I want this world to be better than where I left it.

For my little part, it’s really a calling. And I just love that there are other people doing the same thing, dedicated and focused. The importance of diversity in our world right now, and especially at that engineering table, with all the new nnovations and technology. The more diversity we can bring to the table, the more equitable our world is. I wish more people would pay attention, but it’s very encouraging that there are sponsor companies and all kinds of people investing in this. So that encourages me a lot.

3. Monica Moman-Saunders, Professional Engineer and Fellow, American Society of Mechanical Engineers

Monica Moman-Saunders, P.E., has more than 20 years of experience in engineering management and contract negotiations and management. Moman-Saunders joined ASME in 1985, where she is now a Fellow and Governor-Nominee. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from University of Alabama, a Master of Science degree in business and management from Webster University of St. Louis, Miss. and completed the executive management program at IMD Business School in Lausanne, Switzerland.

MD: What keeps you motivated to continue the work that you do?

Monica Moman-Saunders: I’m a little engine that can. But as an African-American female mechanical engineer, I have spent my entire professional career working in a male-dominated field—I worked in the utility industry. I’ve always worked to improve diversity in this field, promoting STEM education. But progress is, and has been, slow. But now that the world has become more diverse, and it continues to change every day at a very fast pace, companies have come to realize that they will benefit from diversity and DEI initiatives.

They have also begun to change their culture. So, I am more energized than ever at the opportunity to help bring about this meaningful societal, cultural and systematic change. I’m actually very excited to work on this effort and do my part to foster change. That’s one of the reasons I’m on the board of governors within ASME. My actions are intentional and my personal mission and goal in life is very clear at this point. I want to bring about the change that will make our world a better place for all. And so that’s what keeps me excited about it for sure.

Editor’s Note: Machine Design's WISE (Workers in Science and Engineering) hub compiles our coverage of workplace issues affecting the engineering field, in addition to contributions from equity seeking groups and subject matter experts within various subdisciplines.

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