More than 50 years ago, a group of researchers gave a group of elementary school children a simple instruction: draw a scientist. The classic "draw-a-scientist" experiment was repeated many times over the years. Of the 5,000 drawings collected between 1966 and 1977, only 28 – or less than 1 percent – drew a woman scientist. All of them were drawn by girls.
This is the era that I grew up in. Many years ago, long before I had ever stepped foot inside PennDOT headquarters, I was a young girl who dreamed of one day becoming an engineer. But in the 1970's, women made up only 7 percent of the STEM workforce. There were few women in the industry or role models to look up to, particularly one who looked like me. It was an uphill climb.
During Women's History Month, I want to celebrate all of the remarkable women who helped to build America and carve out a place for future generations - including roles for women in STEM, transportation and government. They were strong, courageous, compassionate and tough, qualities that paved the way for diversity in the workplace and the addition of unique perspectives.
Today, women make up 28 percent of the STEM workforce and just 13 percent of engineers. Challenges amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic have had a disproportionate social and economic impact on women, as many have borne the brunt of childcare duties and job losses - including those in STEM careers.
I believe the emphasis on STEM for women is fundamental, that recruitment of girls to engineering school is critical, and the skills of women are needed in places like PennDOT. It's so important that we have people with various backgrounds at the table to help tackle our most pressing transportation challenges.
I am committed to engaging in conversations with students and young professionals throughout Pennsylvania to help encourage more women and people of color to pursue and excel in STEM careers. It is critical to engage the next generation in the discussions about the changing transportation needs, equity, and the latest innovations in safety and transportation. The COVID-19 pandemic caused a paradigm shift for the world and it requires a new leadership approach to reimagine how we connect and work.yg-women-shistory.png