Sophia Saint’val, an IT major at NJIT, feels like there aren’t a lot of people like her in her field.
“There were just times where I just wanted to give up,” Saint’val said, “but then coming to events like this and meeting other women in STEM has really encouraged me to keep going.”
Saint’val’s experience is echoed by dozens of other women who attended the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s 5th annual Women Designing the Future Conference.
Female students pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics were able to interact and network with female scientists, entrepreneurs and researchers — technology fields where women remain underrepresented.
“Doing a startup, there’s very few women that actually receive venture capitalist money. In electrical engineering the percentages are also very low. Biomedical they are a bit higher,” said NJIT biomedical engineering professor Tara Alvarez.
The lack of women in STEM fields can also mean a lack of research when it comes to women’s health.
“One example is there’s less studies on pregnancy and menstruation because there’s less women in bigger positions in labs,” said Karina Dsouca, a biomedical engineering student at NJIT.
But women in the STEM field say the challenge goes beyond just attracting women to the field, it’s about making sure there are ample opportunities for them to assume leadership roles.
“Sure, women have a seat at the table, but where are you sitting?” said Aisha Glover, president and CEO of the Newark Community Economic Development Corporation.
Glover says the representation of women in tech is still not as strong as it should be, but it’s improving.
“What we’re seeing is definitely an increased number of graduates. In fact, NJIT graduate more engineers than MIT on an annual basis. The next step is really just trying to figure out how we capture that graduating body and really pairing them, particularly with a strong corporate community that’s already here in Newark,” Glover said.
Judith Sheft, who is the associate vice president of strategic relationships and external affairs at NJIT, plays a pivotal role in cultivating the next generation of women entrepreneurs. She says inclusion is the key.
“Diversity isn’t enough. You’ve got to make people feel included. Yes, you can get them in the front door, but you don’t want them leaving five minutes later,” Sheft said. “You want them to feel that their voices are being heard. That they are able to feel comfortable in these environments.”
In a world where technology is inescapable, the message was clear: there needs to be more women in technology to level the playing field for other women to follow in their footsteps.