Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Katie Mehnert, CEO and Founder, Pink Petro

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Katie Mehnert

CEO and Founder

Pink Petro



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
The energy business is a fascinating and rewarding place to make a difference. We create and make things that power our world and underpin our economy and livelihoods. After years in energy technology and business transformation in Upstream and Downstream, I found my passion in health, safety, and operational risk management. Today I enjoy continuing that path as a consultant to industry while developing a diverse pipeline of female talent to drive closure of the gender gap in our sector.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The best project I tackled was road safety while at Shell. My team launched an intervention program in 16 countries across the globe and we drove down road fatalities. What made it cool? Country leadership teams, suppliers, and employees all worked together to make a difference in our pursuit to Goal Zero – an initiative that touched every part of our business, with over 100k people impacted. Ultimately Shell went on to become a leader in road safety, carving out a centre of expertise and becoming the role model in industry.

Role models and heroes:
There are plenty to count. First and foremost, my parents are my heroes. My dad and mom both always taught me three important things: owning my path, confidence, and integrity. I had many great teachers who gave me the space to learn and fail. Peggy, an engineer who has recently hit the pinnacle of her career as a CEO in a large IOC, took a risk on me as a non-engineer and changed my mindset and my career trajectory.

We all need role models and heroes and I seek to become one for other women so they know they don’t have to go at it alone.

Why do you loving working in STEM?
STEM fuels our world. It underpins our lives. It’s the engine that solves our biggest problems. It’s bigger than all of us and needs women.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Own it and make it happen. Don’t let anyone or anything stand in your way.

Favorite website or app:
I’m going to have to say, Pink Petro. In 5 weeks, we are in 11 countries with members from various technical and non technical disciplines. I’m honored my industry supported and encouraged me to pursue developing Pink Petro, a community for women in energy and their advocates. It uses JIVE social business technology to power professional development communities, Q/A forums, blogs, discussions, mentor and coach matching, ideation, and other neat features. It’s spam and ad free and supported through annual membership dues. The site includes students, educators, professionals, executives, retirees and service providers in the energy sector.

Twitter: @katiemehnert

Site: www.katiemehnert.com

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Charlotte Robin, PhD student

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Charlotte Robin

PhD student

University of Liverpool



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I am naturally a very practical person, and have always enjoyed making things – from finger painting to flat-pack furniture! When I was younger, I had no intentions of pursuing a career in STEM, it just kind of happened!

I enjoyed doing research during my degree, but had no idea that it could be a career. When I was offered a job as a research assistant for a veterinary charity I was thrilled, and that was when I realised I wanted to be an epidemiologist. Since then I have worked on numerous research projects, done another Master’s degree and have just started my PhD in Public Health. So really, I am just at the beginning of my career!

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I like to think that all the research projects I have worked on, or have helped with have contributed to improving the health and welfare of the animal or human population in some way. However, I am most proud of my PhD project. I am part of a new Health Protection Research Unit, focusing on emerging zoonotic infections. As a PhD student, it’s great to be part of such a talented and supportive group and to be doing research in such an exciting area. The Institute of Infection and Global Health is also an Athena SWAN bronze award holder, so it’s the perfect environment for a young, female academic such as myself to be working in.

Role models and heroes:
My mum. She worked incredibly hard to raise and support three children, and has taught me that you can achieve whatever you want with hard work and determination.

Why do you loving working in STEM?
The best thing about research is being the first person to discover something new – it’s very exciting!

Advice for future STEMinists?
Be brave and never give up!

I very nearly didn’t take the first job I was offered as I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy it – sometimes you just need to take a leap of faith and go for it. What’s the worst that can happen? You don’t enjoy it so you do something else!

And determination is essential. It took me nearly 4 years to secure PhD funding, sometimes things take longer than you expect (or hope) but if you are tenacious you will get there in the end!

Favorite website or app: Twitter

Twitter: @CharlotteRobin

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Jesi Hoolihan, Student, Astrophysics

Jesi Hoolihan

Student

St Thomas University



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I always had an interest in math and science during my high school career and after a six year career in retail management, found myself inspired while watching Particle Fever. I haven’t looked back since!

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I founded my own nonprofit organization when I was 17. Founding a company on my own really showed me that I will accomplish anything I set my mind to.

Role models and heroes:
Elon Musk. I could care less if my hero is male or female, I love seeing people bettering our species as opposed to their pocket books.

Why do you loving working in STEM?
Well, I’m not officially there yet, but I am excited to be studying astrophysics.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Anything is possible. Don’t fall into the expectations of others.

Favorite website or app:
www.spacex.com

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Taryn Musgrave, Chief Operations Officer for Robogals Global

Taryn Musgrave

Chief Operations Office & Full Time Student

Robogals Global


What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I just LOVE technology and maths! I always wanted to do something a little bit different and I love being able to solve problems. When I was younger I didn’t really know what I wanted to do… I wanted to work with computers but I didn’t have much thought beyond that. I ended up in an Engineering role and have since then come full circle back to Computer Science. I have always been an advocate of women in STEM roles and I am involved in promoting women in STEM roles as part of my role. I think when a maths problem, an engineering marvel, a physics discovery or a particularly tricky code solution gets you excited you have no choice! I have found my passion.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
There have been plenty of cool projects along the way. Each project is different: different challenges and different people. One of the coolest projects was when I was living in Northern Australia. A train had derailed and destroyed a section of track and a point machine. I was on a team of two and we spent the next 12 hours rebuilding this machine from scratch. It involved physical labour, resourceful thinking, problem solving and teamwork to be able to get this machine up and running again. This project gave me a sense of achievement when the machine first operated.

Generally speaking my favourite projects are the ones that have an unexpected outcome and help people. I am a big advocate for volunteering and helping people as much as possible. Sharing knowledge and skills with others develops not only them but myself as well.

Role models and heroes:

  • Amy Poehler – just plain inspirational
  • Helen Pederson – for helping me find the confidence to pursue my dreams. Her Open the Door project provides education and aims to address the issues women face in the engineering industry when returning to the workforce after having children.
  • Karen San Miguel – a fantastic woman who promotes tech to young people through CoderDojo in WA. Also an all-round awesome person.
  • Marita Cheng – founder of Robogals. I would not have the wonderful opportunity I have now if Marita didn’t get the ball rolling.
  • My Husband – he is so patient, kind and supportive. He is such a positive male role model. I am so lucky to have him in my life.

Why do you loving working in STEM?
Every day is different! I love to help people and solve problems. In my current role I get to visit schools and encourage girls to think about STEM as a potential career path. There is nothing more exciting than a group of young girls who never knew that their love of maths and science could be part of their future career. The girls that I meet surprise me every time. Their ingenuity and ‘out of the box’ thinking just blows me away. I meet so many older women who have lost that along the way and I want to encourage everyone to become themselves again. Through my different jobs in STEM I have been knee deep in snow fixing track circuits on the railway in England, responding to faults in Northern Australia in temperatures that melted my work boots, and currently sharing the awesome places STEM careers can take you with girls around the world.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Jump! If you find something you love doing, then do it! Happy people are successful people. Work takes up a substantial part of your life so it is important to love what you are doing. If you make a mistake, you learn. If you chose the wrong path, you can change it. Nothing is set in stone.

Favorite website or app:

  • Twitter – I love to tweet! Twitter connects me with the world and lets me discover so many new people 🙂
  • Slack – Newly discovered. It allows me to keep up with my team on a regular informal basis.

Twitter: @tarynmusgrave

Blog

No Surprises at Amazon

This week Amazon became the latest company to join the craze of releasing diversity statistics. While disappointing, the presented figures weren’t at all unexpected, as Amazon joined the other tech giants in displaying a vastly un-diverse picture on their diversity report.

Over a month after the company was pressed by Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Push Coalition and publications like USA Today to release race and gender breakdowns of its workforce, Amazon quietly responded by posting a page on their website about various diversity initiatives the company is involved with. No official announcement was made by Amazon management about the numbers, and corporate spokespeople have been silent in response to questions about the figures.

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For us at STEMinist, the overwhelming majority of men in the company –especially in managerial positions where just 25% are women– is especially troubling when considering the fact that this is for the company overall. Unlike other tech diversity reports seen in recent months, Amazon chose not to disclose the diversity numbers for its technical staff, which are undoubtedly even more dismal.

While Amazon does sport internal “affinity groups” like AWE (Amazon Women in Engineering), this doesn’t make up for the disparity in proportions. There was no time lost by Amazon in avoiding blame for that problem, declaring it as something that begins in schools.

“We know that in middle school and high school, students are already deciding what professions they want to pursue,” stated Amazon’s report. “More often than not female students and students of color are opting out of technology and engineering.”

They propose to be part of the solution by pumping money and resources into organizations focused on improving the “pipeline” for STEM minorities.

“To broaden our impact, we partner with the Anita Borg Institute to sponsor events such as the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. We also provide resources and volunteers to Code.org to increase access to computing in high school, and we host Girls Who Code to provide hands-on coding education. We actively assist these students to enroll in national programs such as Aspirations in Computing with the National Center for Women & Information Technology.”

While every effort made is something to be celebrated and appreciated, only time (and their next diversity report) will tell if Amazon truly stands behind their commitment to inclusion.

 

 

Blog

The CataLyst: To freeze or not to freeze?

I’ve been meaning to write about this topic since long before the news broke that Apple and Facebook are offering to pay for their female employees to have their eggs frozen. After all, the issue of maintaining a good work / life balance is one of the larger ones when it comes to women in STEM. And the ever leaking pipeline, certainly gets extra leaky around the time when women hit 30+. It’s been heavily debated what these companies’ “true” intentions really are, and many articles have been written both in favor and against.

Before I go onto my little rant about this I would like to point out that I respect any woman’s choice concerning what to do with her own body, and there isn’t a right or wrong choice that fits every person.

I have recently accepted a job offer which will (hopefully) advance my career. This opportunity though, means moving countries, and asking my fiancé to leave his current job and find a new one in order to come with me. I’ve done this now because I feel I need to get as far ahead in my career as possible before starting a family, so that when I eventually do want to get back to work, I’ll be in the best possible situation to do so. If only life was that simple… For me, whether you’re positive or negative toward the idea of this new ‘job perk’, Apple and Facebook’s plan has highlighted just how different the world is for men and women, no matter how much we try and pretend it isn’t.

I’m not going to take this to any extremes here (and those examples always exist) and I don’t see the evil Big Brother plot to control women’s lives which some have hinted at. I don’t think that the perk on face value is a bad thing. Giving benefits that include paying for infertility treatments or adoption costs is a way to show that families are important and as far as I’m concerned, the more options the better. BUT… the underlying message that this perk sends out is that motherhood is viewed as a liability.

The age at which most men and women start progressing their careers happens to be the same age most women begin to have children, and in a majority of cases, childcare responsibilities mainly falls on the mother. The consequence of this is that many mid-career women who want to get ahead (such as myself) are faced with the choice to either advance in their careers, or start a family. Facebook and Apple claim to be addressing this issue with their new offer, saying that it’s enabling women to delay pregnancy, while focusing on their career goals at the same time as their male counterparts. But I see this as a problem rather than a solution.

It seems a bit of a slippery slope, offering to pay women to freeze their eggs for career purposes. Firstly, I think it tells women that the only way they can succeed in the career is by not having a family. Secondly, I think it might scare women into believing that if they do choose to start a family in their early 30’s, they will have very little opportunity to re-enter, let alone move up in their careers. I would even go as far as saying that this perk is in fact perpetuating gender inequality and only contributing to the problem.

The fact that starting a family is a liability to a woman’s career but not a man’s is what the problem here is. Women should have an equal shot at success regardless of how they spend their personal lives. Companies need to allow flexible working environments, better maternity and paternity leave (after all, a problem shared is a problem halved right?) and childcare benefits. If we allow working moms and dads(!) to integrate their family and work lives, and sharing the load, women will have a much greater chance to succeed.

The money that is supposed to be spent on freezing eggs ($20,000 per woman) could pay for full-time childcare for up to a year (even in London!). Or companies could use the money and to build nurseries in their offices and staff them with day-care workers. The message that a company sends a woman when egg freezing is a benefit, and the fact they don’t see that message, is an example of how far we still have to go.

Blog

Will the Women in Tech Please Stand Up?

Unless you’ve been living under an internet-less rock for the last few months, you’ve probably noticed the huge increase in attention that the tech gender gap has gotten recently. The latest conclusion that the online community has reached is that women just don’t want to work in tech.

That statement seems a bit misleading. Saying that women don’t want to work in tech implies that there is something inherent in the technology itself that women just don’t like. There isn’t. We’re finally seeing more women choosing to enroll in STEM programs, so the interest is there. The myth that women aren’t as good at math and science as men are has long been debunked. So what exactly is keeping the ratio in technology so highly in men’s favor?

It’s true, there is the ever-present “boys’ club” mentality, and it hasn’t gone away. The “brogrammer” culture is unfortunately as strong as ever, meaning any woman who wants to try to balance a career with family life (or any sort of life outside of work and work parties) automatically has a lot on her plate. Add to that the fact that companies like Facebook and Apple seem to think that paying for a woman to freeze her eggs is more helpful for the female population than arranging for maternity leave and childcare, and you’ve got a doozy to deal with.

These are definitely problems, and ones that need to be solved. However, the best way to do that is to show these companies that women are active players in the technology arena and are here to stay. That brings us to the next problem facing ladies who are trying to get started in the industry: Where are the women who have already made it?

Where are the ladies who have hunkered down and shown the brogrammers that we can play ball? Who out there has found a tech job that allows them to have the work-life balance they need? How have women already in tech negotiated for higher salaries and better benefits?

These women exist, so where are they?

Jane Porter, from FastCompany, looked at why women seem to be leaving STEM jobs in droves and unsurprisingly honed in on a sense of isolation, biased evaluations, a lack of sponsors, and a lack of women mentors as some of the top reasons. All of these can be easily solved if the women who are already anchored in the world of technology look out for those just getting started.

For women to finally close the gender gap, we need not just sponsors and mentors, but true role models. So will the women in tech please stand up?

Are you a woman already making waves in STEM? We want to feature YOU on the STEMinist site! Stand up and help inspire future female leaders in STEM by sending us your information HERE. Keep up the amazing work!

Blog

The CataLyst: Are We Better Together?

About a month ago Scotland decided to remain part of the UK, and the “Better Together” campaign celebrated that a 300 year old union was not split up. I’m not going to get into politics here or my opinions about the Scottish referendum, as this is not the place for it. Instead, I want to talk about the concept of “Better Together”, the campaigns, how it’s left two groups of people very divided, and what we can learn from all this.

In any given group of people – be it family, work, school or randomly selected in public – you’re going to get different opinions about anything. So in a workplace that’s diverse and has representatives from all different backgrounds you could assume that people would think differently. This is natural as we have different life experiences that have shaped who we are. In the case of Scotland (a bit of an extreme to make my point, I’ll admit), we have two distinct groups with opposing opinions about their future. So, even though the “Better Together” campaign won, Scotland is now a nation where nearly half the population (45%) would rather have left. I question how good that is for unity.

Now let’s translate that into a work environment, a research group at university or a school class. How good is it to have such opposing opinions working together (by force or by choice)? I think it creates a very distinct “us and them” mind set. And this is where I think we have something to learn from Scotland’s predicament. The referendum campaign in Scotland was very harshly pushed from both sides. There was very little room for listening and trying to understand the other camp’s point of view. And where there was opportunity for compromise, many people were shouted down by those most extreme on either side. All of a sudden, there wasn’t a reasonable “middle” anymore, there was just black or white, us or them, yes or no.

I’m sure the people of Scotland have a whole range of diverse opinions, but when put in a situation where there are only two choices, people easily turn to an extreme. Likewise, in a workplace with a diverse group of people, we have to ask ourselves if everyone’s voice is being heard. Is it always the loud one who gets an opinion across, and do the people in charge take the time to ensure everyone gets involved? Maybe the quiet person who is a bit shy has a really great idea or solution, but no one ever asked them? Maybe the minority female staff have some ideas on how to increase equality, or make it easier to bring up diversity issues?

Any group of people can be diverse, and I think it’s great that we’re all working towards a world where the makeup of our society is reflected at every stage. BUT, a diverse society/family/workplace/school is nothing if we don’t use that diversity in an inclusive way, where everyone’s experiences are allowed to be heard. So are we better together? Of course we are, but the key is to not forget we come from different places, and can contribute different things. We need to continually work against our own prejudices (which we all have), if we are to move forward.

Blog

An Interview with Computer Science Professor Dr. Rebecca Wright

This summer, while at the NJ Governor’s School for Engineering and Technology, I was able to meet one of the keynote speakers, Dr. Rebecca Wright. After the program ended, I was also able to interview Dr. Wright about her experiences and insight into engineering. Dr. Wright is both a professor and researcher at Rutgers University for computer science, cyber security, and communications security. She attended Columbia University for her Bachelor’s degree and Yale University for her Ph.D.

As a little girl, both of her parents went to MIT and she was surrounded by female engineers. She was raised thinking that this was the norm, and that there were a decent number of women working in STEM fields. In fact, those women that she was surrounded by were a vast majority of female engineers and scientists in the world. Nevertheless, they collectively influenced Dr. Wright’s early decision to work in the computer science field. In high school, she chose computer science over playing the piano, deeming musical skills something that she needed more inherent talent for and engineering skills something more practical that she could work hard towards.

And indeed, a computer science degree was a hard major to work towards. I, based on my dramatically mind-exploding experiences in calculus, felt obliged to ask if the majority of the math classes she took in college were inapplicable to her current research and career. Dr. Wright admitted that the certain theoretical math classes were not useful, but the math learned from computer science classes was very important. In her first year of college, the discrete math requisite is what thoroughly fascinated and solidified her passion for computer science.

One of Dr. Wright’s most recent research projects focuses on human mobility modeling. Cellular networks provide the necessary data. She inferred home and work locations from each caller ID to create a model of users and their call behavior. Then, she created synthetic users with their calls based on the model. It effectively reproduced the real life population density distributions. The second project examined privacy on social media. Dr. Wright introduced a concept called side channels— information channels that are secondary to the intended communication channel but convey additional relevant information.

To examine side channels, Dr. Wright created an experimental Facebook account and discovered many “loopholes” or side channels that revealed information intended to be blocked (ie. friends’ restrictions). She conducted a survey to determine user awareness and concern about these side channels. One survey question asked if the user was aware that edit history was visible to anyone who can see the post. This type of research enables Dr. Wright to find and solve cyber security problems.

Outside of research, Dr. Wright has been to several leadership summits in Europe, China, Malaysia, Israel, etc. Communication, above all, is key. Thus, in response to my mentioning of the stereotype that engineers are bad writers, Dr. Wright laughed and stated that whether it was true or not, writing is crucial to engineering; after all, the discovery or invention is worthless
without effective communication.

As for personal advice, she underscored the work required to pursue such a career. Speaking from the experience of rushing to finish a research paper, completing arduous and sometimes arcane math classes, and many sleepless nights, Dr. Wright was sure to remind me that the path to becoming an engineer was not nearly as easy as she made it out to be. Laughing, I stated that I had and would never underestimate the effort.

News

Sir James Dyson: ‘It’s sexist to say that women and girls don’t ‘do’ engineering’

“To encourage girls to get inventing, we need to do more reveal a true picture of engineering at a young age. Between the ages of seven and nine, children develop the key critical reasoning skills essential to engineering. It is during this time that they should be inspired and exposed to hands on making and doing, at school and home.”

[ via The Telegraph ]