November 2, 2018

Making Strides Towards Gender Equality in STEM

Feature Series: HoyasForShe Reflections

On October 11, representatives from U.N. Women visited Georgetown University as part of the HeForShe #GetFreeTour. The tour provided Georgetown students the opportunity to engage with and learn more about the global efforts for gender equality.

HeForShe #GetFreeTour bus in front of Healy Hall
HeForShe #GetFreeTour bus in front of Healy Hall

The event began with opening remarks from Rosemary Kilkenny, Georgetown’s vice president for institutional diversity, equity and affirmative action. In her remarks, she highlighted the university’s commitment to achieving gender equality, eliminating sexual misconduct on campus, and working with the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security to address gender issues on a global scale. Some of the most notable successes have been the integration of mandatory bystander intervention training to increase awareness of sexual assault on college campuses, and the Staff Mentoring Program through the Georgetown Women’s Alliance.

Following Kilkenny’s remarks, there was a panel discussion on women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), composed of Alex Atkinson, senior manager of corporate relations at Exelon; Sara Lacey, an engineer at Exelon; and Erin Conn, a Ph.D. student in cell biology and Georgetown Women’s Alliance fellow. Much of the discussion centered on the academic and professional gender gaps within the STEM field and how Exelon, a Fortune 100 energy company, is working to promote gender equality in the workplace. Exelon has partnered with U.N. Women to better promote and include women in the STEM industry, where female representation has historically lagged. Through extensive outreach to college students and mentorship opportunities, Atkinson and Lacey emphasized Exelon’s dedication to fostering a more inclusive environment for women in the STEM field. Lacey also highlighted Exelon’s commendable use of leveraging salaries to generate equal pay among genders.

As the only male on the panel, Atkinson explained why he became involved with HeForShe, and how that has shaped his perspective working at Exelon. His experiences in social work and close relationships with female mentors have been essential to his understanding of the pervasive gender biases and issues in our society. Atkinson says that his awareness of his privilege as a white male has motivated him to both advocate for women’s issues, while also ensuring that his voice does not overpower that of women.

It was truly inspiring to hear these panelists’ experiences and insights into the issues of gender inequality in the professional workplace. Personally speaking, the timing of the event was a bit surreal for me, as I had just attended a Women in STEM Panel hosted by Georgetown University Women in Leadership the day before. During that event, Georgetown students reflected on their own academic and professional experiences in various industries, ranging from computer science to biology. Though each student panelist had different interests, a common theme throughout was the noticeable lack of female representation in their respective fields, especially that of women of color, and the significant impact it had on them as aspiring young professionals. To hear a prominent company like Exelon reaffirm its commitment to close this gap in gender inequality and discuss tangible efforts being made was truly inspiring and made me hopeful for the future.

As the panelists highlighted, these types of gender equality initiatives are crucial to ensuring a more equal and inclusive workplace environment moving forward. With the strides being made to create a “new normal,” having women in STEM will one day no longer be the exception, but the norm.

This post was prepared by Cynthia Sun (SFS'20) as part of the HoyasForShe Student Fellowship.