Building a Better Future for Women in STEM: Symposium Highlights Achievements and Challenges

Oct 17, 2016

Jie Qiao Ph.D., M.B.A., M.S., B.S.
Credit rit.edu

Scientists and engineers from around the world will be gathering in Rochester this week for the annual meeting of the Optical Society of America.

One symposium is focusing on the special challenges faced by women in the STEM fields.

"We are bringing women into the field, but they are not growing through the field," said Jie Qiao, an RIT associate professor, who founded and chairs the group Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Entrepreneurship (WiSTEE).

Her goal is to build a community of women in academia and industry to help women grow their careers and inspire leadership. Qiao, who sees herself as both an activist and a scientist, created WiSTEE in 2013.  She says women leave STEM fields as they appear to encounter a series of challenges at midcareer that leave them feeling isolated.

"Women experience bias, and this bias could be...most of them are subconscious bias,” she said. “The standard for them is different."

The symposium will feature more than 20 international women entrepreneurs and leaders in STEM fields.

One workshop will focus on salary negotiations. Qiao says there is a 30 percent pay gap between men and women who enter STEM fields.

"At the beginning there's no difference, but along the way, in the next 10, 15, 20 years, the gap starts building up for various reasons, and women are not very good at negotiating our salaries."

In addition to a Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering, Qiao earned an M.B.A. and encourages other STEM professionals to do the same to enable them to see their work in an entrepreneurial context. 

25-year old Lauren Taylor, a Ph.D. candidate in imaging science at RIT, looks forward to hearing from women established in their fields. She said she often hears about women’s career highlights, but she’s interested in also learning about how they developed strategies to overcome specific barriers.

"I think that by hearing some of their struggles and actually learning how they overcame these obstacles and challenges will help to benefit me to learn some skills so when I actually get to the workforce and I see these obstacles, I have some knowledge on how to move forward and persevere through some of them," she said.

The Optical Society of America is celebrating its 100th anniversary. The organization was founded in Rochester in 1916 by physicist Perley Nutting.

According to the OSA’s website, it is the leading professional association in optics and photonics, home to accomplished science, engineering, and business leaders from all over the world.