Despite many obstacles women are moving into STEM fields in the workforce

Diana LaPier and Andra Goldberg are two of the few women to succeed in STEM-related fields and careers

Geotechnical engineering technician Diana LaPier operating a drill while taking soil samples.

Courtesy

Geotechnical engineering technician Diana LaPier operating a drill while taking soil samples.

Despite many obstacles in their way and people telling them they can’t, women are moving into STEM fields in the workforce. Just not as many as experts thought.

Kingman High School Class of ’95 graduate Diana LaPier, 40, is a first-year geotechnical engineering technician for CGC Consulting in Wilmington, Delaware.

She started with an annual salary of more than $40,000 going out with a 20-person drilling crew, pulling and studying water and soil samples to determine human development and preservation capabilities near area ecosystems.

Before engineering, LaPier was a human resources manager for six years at Northern Arizona University. At the age of 37, she put aside years of discouragement and attended Delaware Technical Community College. Paired with her bachelor’s degree, she landed her dream job.

“I hated HR,” LaPier said. “I ended up in it because I was good at it. I wanted to get into engineering for as long as I could remember. In high school there was a lot of discouragement.”

Many factors kept her away from the engineering fields. She said the female teaching pool for math and science in her formative teen years was small, and there was little to no support from the men in her life.

“I had very few teachers who encouraged me,” she said. “The women said, ‘You sure you want to do that? It’s going to be too hard. It’s a guy’s world.’”

LaPier wanted to take shop class in eighth grade. When only two girls signed up, the principle wanted to nix her plans, which would’ve required her to take another year of home economics.

“The teachers said things like, ‘You’re a girl. You should go cook and sew,’” she said.

Her dad went to bat for her and convinced the principle to let her in.

“I won the shop award that year because I made better stuff than the guys,” she said.

Along with her boss, LaPier is the only other woman in the crew. Contractors often bypass both women when asking questions about a job.

“(Contractors) are almost always men,” she said. “They’ll often defer to my male counterparts, even if I’m the one they should be talking to.”

LaPier wants girls to know there’s a tough battle ahead in the STEM fields, but insists they not cave in to pressure.

“I’d tell them it’s getting better, and they need to keep pushing. It’s hard but rewarding,” she said. “Find allies and people who can back you up and be your mentor. It’s never going to change unless we keep pushing forward.”

Mohave Community College computer information systems instructor Andra Goldberg, 61, has been teaching various computer classes for 30 years.

When she was working on her master’s degree in agricultural economics at University of Arizona in the mid-‘80s, computers were just coming into the public forefront. She was a teacher’s assistant in a computer lab and her dabbling in the early programming languages while writing her master’s thesis altered her career path toward the world of computers.

She worked for an Arizona State University PC training program at about the time many businesses were converting from paper to computer and had a huge demand for how to use new software.

The Kingman native moved back in 1993 and started teaching business math at MCC. Goldberg now teaches web design and has seen computers come a long way.

“I’m just following demands of the community and business world,” she said.

Goldberg said she hasn’t faced any hurdles from her male counterparts, either in the tech or teaching professions.

“I’ve never had any issues like that. For me, if you don’t make it an issue, it’s not an issue. I focus on the job,” Goldberg said. “The college is extremely supportive of diversity. They wouldn’t tolerate anything less.”

In 2013, MCC started a Healthcare Information Technician program.

“It really attracted female students headed toward healthcare,” Goldberg said. “I’ve seen a lot of students interested in that degree.”

Goldberg encourages women to take a chance.

“Don’t be afraid of classes you might think are tough and challenging. Once you get the system, it’s like a game,” she said. “It’s like broccoli. You won’t know you like it until you try it.”Careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math are out there, but few girls are going in that direction.

Where are the girls?

According to Junior Achievement USA Senior Vice President Ed Grocholski, a study by ORC International on behalf of Junior Achievement and accounting firm Ernst and Young shows that a surprising 91 percent of U.S. teenage boys and girls ages 13 to 17 know what kind of job they want after high school. That’s where the similarities between boys and girls end.

The data shows that career preferences remain drawn along gender lines, with only 11 percent of girls pursuing careers in STEM vs. 36 percent of boys. Twenty-six percent of girls plan to study for careers in the arts versus 10 percent of boys. Twenty-four percent of girls favor careers in the medical and dental fields versus six percent of boys.

One thousand teens nationwide were surveyed. Grocholski didn’t have exact numbers for Arizona.

“While it’s encouraging to see teens today are giving a great deal of thought to their career aspirations, it’s surprising to learn that there are still significant gaps between boys’ and girls’ interest in careers choice,” said Katherine Cecala, president of Junior Achievement of Arizona. “We hoped to learn that girls, for example, would be more attracted to STEM careers beyond medicine – related to science, engineering, computers and math – since there is virtually unlimited opportunity for talented and qualified professionals in these fields.”

STEM jobs in Mohave County

The Mohave County Public Works Department – Engineering and Surveying Division relies heavily on STEM skills.

There are approximately 14 authorized and filled positions in this division: two surveyors, five surveying support staff to include technicians, two engineers, and five staff engineering technicians – all filled by men.

That doesn’t mean women aren’t welcome.

“We currently do not have women engineers on staff. We’ve had female staff civil engineers in the past,” said Steve Latoski, director of Mohave County Public Works. “We make every attempt to attract the best and brightest engineers and technical staff.”

Below are starting monthly salaries of selected county engineer and surveyor positions:

A registered surveyor starts off at $3,546; the county surveyor at $4,751.

An engineering technician starts off at $3,064 and unregistered civil engineer at $4,309.

Those salaries don’t include benefits such as health coverage and paid time off.

That’s where all those high school algebra, geometry and trigonometry classes pay off.

“I’ve certainly seen female applications,” Latoski said. “It’s an outstanding profession. The field of civil engineering is focused on improvement and maintenance of infrastructure that serves public welfare. It’s a rewarding career that is quite dynamic.”

LaPier’s Hail Mary has paid off. She’s gone from sitting at a desk charting Microsoft Excel statistics and filing paperwork to spending her day mostly outside.

“It’s the first time in my life I’m happy to go to work,” she said. “I get up and actually enjoy going.”