Can Putting the Art in Stem Attract More Women?

Joanne Moretti

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Can putting the "Art" in STEM attract more Women? Time to change the conversation?

A few weeks ago, at WITI's 22nd Annual Women in Technology Summit, Jabil's own Heather Andrus, Managing Director of our Radius Innovation & Product Development team did a fabulous Keynote on Design Thinking and problem solving.


When WITI asked me if we had a female engineer that could speak and inspire the women of WITI, I immediately thought about Heather. Heather has 25 years of experience developing successful consumer and healthcare related products for some of the biggest brands on the planet; all done with a broad range of experience in design thinking, consumer research, product strategy, engineering and product development. Prior to joining Radius, Heather was at Altitude from 2001 until 2013. During that time, she held a number of positions, the least of which was Chief Innovation Officer for the firm. Prior to that she spent time at 3Com, Ideo, and Oracle. Ms. Andrus received her Master's in mechanical engineering with a focus on product design from Stanford University, and her bachelor's degree in computer science with a minor in cognitive science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Besides being incredibly bright and experienced, she's also an inspiration and role model for me and so many women at Radius and more broadly across Jabil.

Although Design is often used to define an object or end result - design is also a powerful process or protocol for discovering opportunities and solving problems. No one knows better the power of design than a designer. And no one is better equipped to educate women on the power of design thinking than a designer who uses the methodology daily to build foundations that drive some of the world's leading brands and businesses forward. Enter Heather; during her presentation, she shared with this audience of female technologists, the key tenets of design thinking to help them leapfrog to a place of unprecedented creativity and successful execution for any idea or new business model or both!

Everyone was riveted as she presented and I thought to myself, wow, isn't her job cool? Cool, being the operative word, so hold that thought for a second.

I continued to ponder, and thought...she gets to apply both her engineering prowess to ensure a product works and her creativity to ensure the user enjoys their experience with it? That's a dream job, I thought to myself i.e. ideation, mechanical engineering, UX, UI, strategy work - all rolled up into one?! Right brain and left brain firing together beautifully to develop something? Hmm, I further thought...maybe this is the type of engineering role that would appeal to young girls and attract them into STEM?!

Wait, what did I just say (think)?
Something that could make engineering more appealing to young women??!!! BINGO, I thought! Could this be it?

Could Design be the "art" and "science" which could bring out the "sexy" in engineering for women? I quickly scanned my own memory banks, and recalled from personal experience as a software engineer, that the requirements gathering sessions with business people, flow-charting logic and ultimately "creating" solutions on the back of a napkin were way more fun and engaging for me, than the actual "coding" ever was.

Maybe this was/is the answer we've been looking for; maybe this could solve some of our dilemma in terms of attracting girls into engineering? Could it be or was I dreaming in technicolor?

Well not really, by an incredible coincidence, a few days after the WITI event, I read a very brief post the IET (the Institution of Engineering and Technology) made, which posed a very similar question; here is their eloquent way of putting it:

"Increasingly, the critical relationship of INNOVATION and DESIGN (i.e. Arts) in science, technology, engineering and mathematics is becoming more apparent. And with industry needing more women then ever before to study and work in science, technology, engineering and mathematics - perhaps DESIGN could also be an important angle in attracting more women into the field. Innovation and design within the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics go hand-in-hand. For example, User Interface Design (UI) and User experience (UX) are critical design elements for digital technology. Through adding Art + Design thinking to the equation, we can transform S.T.E.M. into S.T.E.A.M."

Having thought this through now for a few weeks, I've made a decision. A decision that will take this notion of STEAM one step further. I've decided to connect and triangulate my thoughts with WITI's Ronni Eloff and IET's Naomi Climer, to determine if we should do a study of some type, to quantify this hypothesis, and determine if in fact putting the "A" in STEM could help us in our cause to inspire thousands, maybe even millions of girls and women to look more seriously into STEM careers! It's worth a shot.

At this point, with the numbers of women graduating from STEM related fields disappointingly low (have a look at the infographic at the bottom of the blog, called "Technology is Everywhere, But where are the Girls?" provided by National Center for Women & Information Technology), it might be a shot at changing things for good!

Would love your opinion on this topic if you want to share any comments or additional thoughts, please do so in the comments section.

And in the meantime, since we are on LinkedIn, I'd like to invite anyone who is interested in an exciting career in the Design & Innovation world, to please refer to our Radius Job Spotlight or Jabil Careers pages, to see if there is something that gets your brain firing with possibilities!

Also, in the meantime, help yourself to the YouTube video of Heather's presentation:

And help yourself to a Free Subscription to the Butterfly - the #1 Social Paper for Women in Biz and STEM.

Joanne Moretti