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Gender bias and stereotypes remain as obstacles to females in technical fields

Aug. 3, 2022
Mentoring programs, diversity ambassadors, maternity policies and development programs for women need to be expanded and consistent

Pam Horbacovsky Klancewicz is marketing manager—traceability and vision, Omron Automation Americas.

According to U.S. census data, the percentage of women in engineering occupations has increased from a mere 3% to 15% over the past 50 years. While the needle is pointed in the right direction, there’s still a lot of room to grow that number. What seem to be the biggest hurdles to women interested in engineering and automation fields? And what difficulties are employers encountering as they work to increase that number?
Pam Horbacovsky Klancewicz, marketing manager—traceability and vision, Omron Automation Americas: One of the biggest hurdles has been a lack of exposure to female roles in an industry that is male-dominated. There is still a lot of work to be done, but, as women continue to grow their presence in different fields, exposure and recognition are crucial, so we can assure that girls and teenagers can see themselves working in automation fields in the future without feeling different, and young female professionals know there is a place for them, too.

Also read: Mentors can guide women over engineering-career hurdles

Pam Horbacovsky Klancewicz

Schools and colleges, as well as employers, need to combine efforts to break the invisible obstacles all women face when they start studying or working in a technical field—gender bias and stereotypes. Raising awareness against bias and taking action toward diversity and equality should be the norm. Mentoring programs, diversity ambassadors, good maternity policies and development programs for women are steps in the right direction but need to be expanded and consistent over time. Inevitably, this will make automation and engineering fields more attractive to women, as they will see better chances to be successful and space to develop their experience, and they will try new things and follow their passions.

In her relatively famous study, published in the Harvard Business Review, MIT’s Susan Silbey and her colleagues found that women in engineering experienced a significant amount of gender bias not only at the college level, but even more so in internships and co-ops and then when entering the workforce. She estimates that 40% of women who earn an engineering degree either quit or never enter the profession. What can be done to nurture and develop these women, especially early in their careers?
Pam Horbacovsky Klancewicz, marketing manager—traceability and vision, Omron Automation Americas: This can be done with exposure to the industry, through professional associations, access to mentoring programs and networking opportunities. As part of the educational offer, colleges should make available access to professional networks to women pursuing roles in technical fields. This will offer young women an opportunity to get a broader perspective of their future field and help them build confidence as they advance in their careers, understanding how their knowledge and new skills will suit them in the future.

According to the latest research from the Society for Women Engineers, females earn 10% less than their male counterparts. How does this impact a woman’s interest in entering an automation-related field, and what can be done to counteract this?
Pam Horbacovsky Klancewicz, marketing manager—traceability and vision, Omron Automation Americas: Unfortunately, this is not unique to this field, and there is no doubt it will have a significant impact when a woman is considering professional opportunities in the automation field.

Organizations that are truly committed to breaking gender bias will need to address the gender wage gap at some point. Transparency over pay, skill-based assessments that don’t ask for gender at the beginning and gender-equality promotion are just some of the different actions that can be taken to stabilize and make the field more attractive to women looking for an opportunity in this industry.

How can mentoring programs help women to stay the course and feel fulfilled in their automation or engineering pursuits?
Pam Horbacovsky Klancewicz, marketing manager—traceability and vision, Omron Automation Americas: Mentoring programs are a powerful tool for both mentor and mentee. It helps you to adjust perceptions, better understand career ambitions, identify growth opportunities and gain confidence. For women, it is important to participate in programs where they have access to female mentors with experience in different industries. Learning from other experiences and stories offers a better picture of the challenges and opportunities other female colleagues faced in their professional lives and is an encouragement to think about what success could look like.

Mentoring programs should be promoted as the first step to developing a solid professional network that, among other advantages, can offer early access to new possibilities, including the right opportunity for the next step in your career path.

About the author: Mike Bacidore
About the Author

Mike Bacidore | Editor in Chief

Mike Bacidore is chief editor of Control Design and has been an integral part of the Endeavor Business Media editorial team since 2007. Previously, he was editorial director at Hughes Communications and a portfolio manager of the human resources and labor law areas at Wolters Kluwer. Bacidore holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MBA from Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He is an award-winning columnist, earning multiple regional and national awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He may be reached at [email protected] 

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