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Attention, Women in STEM Careers: Mentoring Matters!

Attention, Women in STEM Careers: Mentoring Matters! - Amplified Perspectives, Burns & McDonnell

As more studies roll in regarding women in leadership, it's becoming clear that female empowerment isn't just good for women, it's good for everyone.

In fact, there is increasing evidence that when more women sit at the decision-making table, companies obtain better results and outcomes. A 2016 study by the Harvard Business Review backs this up.  

The study states, “When we examined the profitable firms in our sample (average net margin of 6.4 percent), we found that going from having no women in corporate leadership (the CEO, the board and other C-suite positions) to a 30 percent female share is associated with a one-percentage-point increase in net margin — which translates to a 15 percent increase in profitability for a typical firm.”

Despite a record number of women graduating college and entering the workforce, there appears to be a disconnect between the number of women who start out on the professional track and how many advance to senior-level positions.  

As a woman working in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) field, I am always thinking about how we can solidify the pipeline of women for the future of our industry. I believe the first step is encouraging more women to pursue STEM careers through mentorship.

When I was in seventh grade, I shadowed an environmental scientist in the field. That’s when I realized what I wanted to do. I think it’s important to expose girls early to various career paths. But when it comes to keeping them in this industry — and increasing female representation in STEM — we need to become more visible. We need to show other women that we are here to support them. It’s time for us to engage.

Through my own mentoring experience, formally and informally, I’ve learned that many women lack organizational support and gender-balanced teams. We must become resources for the next generation, as well as continue to support peers and colleagues. Professional women’s organizations, such as the Women's Transportation Seminar (WTS) and the Association of Women in Water, Energy & Environment, offer leadership and mentoring programs that provide resources, guidance and leadership experience that can enhance the workplace. As vice president of the WTS San Diego chapter, I gained valuable experience at the executive level, and that predates my management position at Burns & McDonnell.

When mentorship is expanded to include sponsorship and advocacy, it’s a proven element of success. And when women make a commitment to share experiences, time and resources, they ultimately will find value as well.

Renita Mollman, one the first women to be promoted to an officer role at Burns & McDonnell, is committed to advocacy and equity in our Southern California office, and I have a lot to thank her for. She set a positive example of leadership when I started at the firm three-and-a-half years ago, and her continued faith and support gave me the confidence to apply for a management position.

Now, as a mentor, I participate in career days, speaking to kids in middle school, high school and college about my career path and what it took to get here. I also enjoy organizing panel discussions with women, across all industries, who are at the top of their game. This provides a platform for sharing stories, challenges and successes from different perspectives. They’ll reiterate that it’s not a straight, easy climb, but, in this industry, we have the power to shape our own definition of success.

It’s time to celebrate successes and publicly acknowledge women who are making a difference, affecting change and achieving something remarkable in our industry.

Wondering how to support opportunities for equity and advancement of women in your professional network? It can be as simple as offering to meet for coffee or publicly recognizing a female co-worker for a job well done. Whichever you prefer, start the conversation today!

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Brianna Pilkinton
Written by Brianna Pilkinton
Brianna Pilkinton is an environmental scientist and a section manager in the Burns & McDonnell San Diego office. She is a member of the National Association of Environmental Professionals and is vice president of the San Diego chapter of WTS.

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