Women in STEM Panel Addresses Challenges, Barriers to Entry

A Women in STEM Innovation event hosted by the Midland Business Alliance encouraged high-school-aged women and girls to hear from industry professionals about work-life balance, common myths and how to move up.

More than 100 women attended a Women in STEM Innovation panel discussion to discuss the challenges women face in the field and how to overcome those challenges.

The event, hosted by the Midland Business Alliance on Thursday at the Holiday Inn Midland, invited women to network and hear from others in the industry from those just starting out to those with 30 years of experience.

The MBA encouraged high-school-aged women to come learn more about STEM and consider a career in the industry, as women make up only 24 percent of the STEM workforce. The panel moderator Sarah Gallo, digital capability manager at Dow, said Technology and Engineering have even less women in the workforce.

The event was also attended by both women and men STEM professionals.

The panel was made up of five women in STEM from three different companies:

  • Jessica Snyder — Michigan Operations Site Leader at DuPont, Snyder has worked at Dupont for 22 years
  • Linda Gruber — Site Leader at Hemlock Semiconductor Corporation. Gruber, a mechanical engineer, has worked at HSC for 27 years.
  • Sarah Eckersley — Vice President of Research and Development at Dow, Eckersley has worked at Dow for 30 years.
  • Christal Taylor-Lawson — Information Technology Service Manager at Dow. Taylor-Lawson has worked at Dow for 18 years.
  • Aundrea Trzaskos — Senior Information Technology Analyst at Dow, Trzaskos has worked at the company for five years.

Snyder discussed in the panel some of the “myths” surrounding manufacturing work. One of those myths included the idea that the job is dangerous and requires workers to always be on call. This would make it difficult for pregnant women or mothers to work plants like Dupont.

“I had both of my children when I worked at a manufacturing plant,” she said. “I think the other big myth in manufacturing is that it’s unsafe or unhealthy. I was pregnant in manufacturing plants and I think they’re one of the safest places.”

The panelists discussed at length work-life balance and how difficult that can be for women in STEM. Eckersley gave the example of parenting and how in some cases mothers may struggle to relinquish their parenting role to their partner when their career is busy.

She gave the example of when her daughter was young and she traveled often for work. She said it was difficult to let her husband take the reins when parenting their daughter while she was gone.

“As women, we think, ‘I have to be mom first,’ and, ‘I have to be seen as the primary parent because that goes with my gender identity,'” Eckersley said.

Gruber agreed and said that it can be hard to balance family, work and community events or socializing and networking while working in STEM.

“That does mean sometimes you have to let things drop off your plate, both at work and at home,” she said. “Don’t think you have to sacrifice things at work for home or vice versa.”