Encouraging STEM #1: Make Women Visible

This is the first part of a continuing series by Carrie Rogers-Whitehead based on her KSL article, “5 ways to advocate for women in STEM”. We will be getting a more in-depth look at each of those points, so check back weekly for the next installment!

“The women went and sat in the back of the room,” she said.
“We need to ask women to come to the front where they are visible.”
– Anne Bastien, University of Utah’s Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute

Being visible makes you part of the conversation and sends a message

that women are needed and wanted.

 In March 2015 the Salt Lake County Library system put on a large STEM event for young adults called a Hackathon. This interactive program had a variety of partners, including Salt Lake County extension series, which had LEGO Mindstorm robots. The staff at USU extension were teaching the youth to design, build, program and then “fight” the robots. The robot fighting ring was very popular, with youth crowded around shouting and jostling for a better view. But there was one group that stood behind quietly: the teen girls.

The Hackathon is a small snapshot of a larger picture: women are less visible in STEM. While women graduate with about 50 percent of STEM degrees, their workforce participation is not equitable. That number drops even lower when considering women employed in higher-paying technology and engineering positions.

The effects of being less visible can be subtle in the short term, but powerful over the long term. Having fewer women at the table not only affects people on an individual level, but impacts organizations who lose out on new ideas and different perspectives. When women and girls sit in the back, it sends a message to others around them that their input is not as important. That message is not only sent to other women, but men as well. 

Fortunately, other adults at the Hackathon noticed the girls standing in the back and encouraged them to move forward and have a turn at the table. But many women don’t have those advocates for them, and the subtle barriers can be hard to overcome. Being aware of what is around us is important.

Ask yourself:

  • Are women at the back or the front of the room?
  • Are girls being called on as much as boys in a classroom?
  • Are there enough women on STEM boards impacting decisions?

No woman should have to stand in the back.


Carrie Rogers-Whitehead is a senior librarian with Salt Lake County Library and also teaches at Salt Lake Community College. She holds a Masters in Library and Information Science and Masters in Public Administration and is passionate about women’s education. In her free time she enjoys spending time with her preschool son and husband.


For more information, check out:

Encouraging STEM #2: Finding Role Models
Encouraging STEM #3: Create a Safe Environment
Encouraging STEM #4: Reframe the Conversation
Encouraging STEM #5: Create Partnerships

Utah Women and STEM check out the UWEI Research & Policy Brief: Utah Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics)