An all-female panel of Federal agency leaders acknowledged on Dec. 9 that while women have made a significant gain in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) occupations, they continue to face challenges.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1970, women made up 38 percent of all U.S. workers and eight percent of STEM workers, while men made up 52 percent of all U.S. workers but 73 percent of all STEM workers. Fast forward to 2019, and women made up 48 percent of the workforce, yet only 27 percent of the STEM workforce.

Monica Breidenbach, human capital strategist for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, said leaders need to use employment-related data to see where these representation gaps exist.

“Agency leaders need to look at the data and see where women are not equally represented and make career and workforce choices based on those data,” Breidenbach said during an event organized by ATARC.

Breidenbach also emphasized the importance of women surrounding themselves with other women in the STEM field. She recounted her time as a college student and how male-dominated her courses were.

“Many of my courses were challenging, and I also had no group I could go to seeking advice or help. It was a male-dominated environment. and I didn’t feel like I could lean on my classmates for assistance,” Breidenbach said. “Surround yourself with other women in the field. That sisterhood provides much-needed support in this male-dominated and competitive arena.”

Amber Chaudhry, senior CX strategist at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, added that it’s crucial not to cancel out yourself and your skills as a woman.

“We need to be relentlessly optimistic to move forward and make even more gains in this arena. As women, we tend not to take our shot because we think we won’t make it. We have to learn to go for it regardless of what others think or what they are saying to you,” Chaudhry said.

For Alison O’Mara, innovation adoption lead for the Centers of Excellence at the General Services Administration, this meant “not putting a ceiling on myself and not letting anyone else put a ceiling on me.”

“Impediments always exist for women, especially women in STEM fields. So it is important not to let those impediments stop you from achieving success in this space,” she said.

However, to get to that mentality, the women agreed that having numerous mentors and champions in their corner was crucial – and something that not many early-stage women in STEM fields have, according to Chaudhry.

“Mentors and champions can see different sides of you and help you develop your strengths. They also bring in different perspectives when you are dealing with issues, perspectives you might not have thought of, and that could benefit you in the long run,” Chaudhry said.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.