Published on Mic.com in June 2013. Note: Since publication, the title of the book has changed to Innovating Women: The Changing Face of Technology.
I recently encountered a Reddit thread listing “the most intellectual jokes you know.” Many were indeed nerd wit-laden, but one response caught me off guard. It began: “A physicist, a mathematician and an engineer stay in a hotel. The engineer is awakened by a smell and gets up to check it.” A fire emerges in the hallway, and the three must use their expertise to think of ways to extinguish it.
What troubled me was that the default pronoun used to describe the characters — “he” or “him.” This is emblematic of a persistent cultural assumption that women don’t ever become physicists, mathematicians or engineers. Congress’s Joint Economic Committee reported last year that only 14% of engineers are women, and only 27% are working in computer science and math fields. The same under-representation occurs in leadership positions, as only 4% of women make the Fortune 500 CEO list.
Enter millennial entrepreneur Kristen Van Nest and the team of researchers behind Innovating Women: Past, Present, & Future. The ambitious crowd-sourced e-book and surrounding project aim to shed light on why women are underrepresented in STEM and leadership positions. The title gives us a hint: Women encounter obstacles not just when they enter the workforce, but throughout the course of their lives.
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