There was a time early in Kristie West’s career in supply chain operations when she was the only woman in a room full of colleagues. Now, the Director of operations for Unison Industries/GE Aviation, those days are behind her, but she notes there is still plenty of room for more women at the conference room table.
Speaking this fall at a Women in Aviation conference in Dayton, Ohio, Kristie presented with other aviation leaders on how to attract and retain more women in aviation as well as in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
West kicked off her presentation with GE’s “Meet Molly” commercial, about a resourceful and clever engineering prodigy who never stops inventing.
“Interest in science starts young,” said West, who received a bachelor of Science from Purdue University’s School of Technology. “It must be nurtured and encouraged to grow. That is what balance the equation is all about. I certainly remember being one of the only women in the plant early in my career. I am no longer the only woman, but certainly there are not enough of us.”
In February, GE launched Balance the Equation, with the goal of hiring 20,000 women in technical roles by 2020. In the US, only 14 percent of all engineers and 25 percent of all IT professionals are women. Though women make up 55 percent of all college and graduate students overall, only 18 percent of computer science graduates are female, according to the US Bureau of Statistics.
West noted that barriers to women in STEM include the misperception that they will not have a work-life balance or be able to have a family with a career in STEM, as well as the overall lack of support with there being far fewer women than men.
She notes college age women are always surprised and relieved to hear there are a lot of working mothers and that they won’t be the only woman in the room anymore.
“Pipeline for the future is still a big challenge, and not just for GE but for all companies,” West said. “I look forward to looking back 20 years from now and seeing more gender balance. All of us must reach out to encourage and support the young girls who may be stuck and tell them that they can excel in STEM.”
You can’t be what you can’t see, as the adage goes. And West encourages all women in STEM to show younger women what a career in STEM really looks like.
“We all have to lean-in to them to give them live examples of successful women in STEM,” she said. “Empower young women and give them the confidence that they will be successful no matter what STEM field they choose.”