Men still outnumber women 3-to-1 in the STEM fields. But that’s changing in Chattanooga.
Growing up, Christa Mannarino, director of development for UTC, thought the glass ceiling had been broken and the janitor had long since swept the shards from the floor.
In the ’70s, her mother advocated for women’s rights, volunteered and ran her own business.
“I grew up thinking, ‘Yeah, we’re good,’” Mannarino said. It wasn’t until middle age, when she looked around her and saw her male colleagues in better positions with better pay that she realized, “Oh, this work really isn’t finished.”
A major area in which this disparity is evident is in STEM. In science, technology, engineering and math, there is one woman working for every three men, according to Chattanooga’s Technology Council. Here in Gig City, with its effort to try to become a mecca for technology, organizations have sprung up to help girls and women generate and sustain interest in the STEM fields, and support them as they move through their STEM careers.
For many women who entered STEM fields in the past, it was likely because their fathers were in those fields, Mannarino said. She was aware of the career option, and her father served as her role model.
Part of the reason now for low female participation in STEM careers, Mannarino said, is that many women don’t see the connection between bits, bytes and impacting the world. “Women will come in, but they won’t stay in,” she said, adding, “You can do creative things that are helpful to your community in a STEM field,” such as creating a website interface that helps the community.
According to a paper published by the White House in 2013, getting more women involved in STEM fields is an important step so the nation can “out-build, out-educate and out-innovate future competitors.”
On March 25, the Chattanooga Technology Council premiered its newest program: a chapter of Women in Technology. At the kickoff event held at Loose Cannon, the CTC recruited about 40 people, according to Jennifer Walker, office administrator for the CTC. About 100 people attended, including the CEO of Volkswagen.
Mannarino said the CTC got the idea for the chapter from the Technology Association of Georgia. A new director, Ronna-Renee Jackson, took over the CTC a year ago, and she was already studying the best practices of a technology council. Around this same time, the CTC decided to create a chapter of Women in Technology.
WIT’s founder, Carolyn Leighton, created the organization because as she developed her own technology business, she was “a woman struggling to build my own path.” She wanted to provide a place that would help women trying to reach middle- and upper-management positions succeed.
Mannarino said the organization offers “strategic networking” for its participants because many women don’t know of other women in similar positions in different companies.
She hopes the Woman in Technology chapter will provide role models for up-and-coming women in Chattanooga’s technology market, including, for example, reaching out to a student struggling through statistics and encouraging her to stick with it, “because she can do so many cool things on the other side,” Mannarino said.
It’s worth noting also that other Chattanooga organizations are already promoting the tech field to women and girls in Chattanooga. Girls Inc. has initiatives to promote STEM fields, according to Mannarino. And last year, a group of women formed CodeXX to further teach themselves code.
The glass ceiling might not be gone—but the cracks are widening all the time.
For more information on Chattanooga’s Women In Technology chapter, visit chattanoogatechnologycouncil.org