Girls + Math + Science = Success

I have spent most of my career in male-dominated fields, having graduated from engineering school at a time when only one out of every four women enrolled would earn a degree. When I entered the male-dominated field of patent law – which requires both law and science degrees – I stood on the shoulders of trailblazers like Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who had paved the way for it to be accepted and normal for women to attend law school and become lawyers.

Based upon the low number of women in STEM-related degree programs, women are still a minority in fields like patent law. Despite progress, women are still considered diversity hires in tech. Gender pay gaps exist in many industries and there are very few women leading technology companies.

Touching on the above, I gave an interview for Women’s History Month in March. I share it with you for this month’s article.

Can you please share who has inspired you on your journey? 

Marie Curie. When I was an elementary school student, I read a biography of Marie Curie. It was the first time that I saw a woman as a scientist famous for her discoveries, working in a man’s world. She inspired me to pursue a career in science. Second, Dianne Lyons Walker.  She was my math teacher at TCAPS in 8th grade and strongly advocated for the “Girls + Math + Science = Success” program. I still have a pencil with this slogan printed on it – it sits on my desk for inspiration.

Why is it so important to increase the number of women working in tech?

Job opportunity. Tech jobs are only going to increase in the future. The pay disparity between tech and non-tech jobs will also increase, as there is demand for a highly skilled tech workforce. If we seek to narrow the gender pay gap, women must be in science and math careers.

The theme for International Women’s Day is ‘Let’s all be each for equal,’ a call to create a more gender-balanced world. What does this mean to you?

We are more creative and better problem-solvers when we have different experiences and diverse backgrounds working together. This extends to gender differences and beyond. This theme also makes me think of George Orwell’s famous quote in his book Animal Farm: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” This classic satire shows an example of what a world can look like when each of us is not for equal.

What exciting and new trends do you see in your industry and tech? What do you think those trends might mean for women?

First, I am astounded that in 2020 women are still considered diversity hires in tech. I am believed to be the only woman CEO in big data in at least North America. I see data as increasingly important across all industries. It’s an asset to mine because analytics drives revenue growth and a competitive edge. This provides many opportunities in data science, analytics and software development. Demand for self-service industry offerings for non-technical business users will make machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies accessible for mid-market and small businesses who do not have highly skilled technical teams. Crossover between business analysts and use of data analytics will continue to blend technology skills into traditional business career paths. This is an opportunity for all who pursue STEM-related careers. I hope that women make choices to do so.

How can we ensure girls and young women become more aware of, involved in and encouraged to pursue STEM-related careers?

Promoting math and science studies for young girls is critical. Having female role models from elementary education and beyond to mentor girls to ‘stay in it’ is important. Sometimes students do not realize that the cool careers they are interested in actually rely on math and science educational backgrounds. Connecting these dots reveal the endless possibilities and opportunities that a STEM education opens. Throughout my career I’ve been fortunate to do some really cool things that sitting in algebra class all those years ago I never would have realized were a possibility.

Does having a female mentor help women in business?

Not necessarily. Some of the toughest obstacles during my climb have been due to female ‘mentors’ trying to protect their turf as the token female team member. Munson Healthcare was the only time in my career that I’ve worked with so many strong women business leaders supporting each other.

If you could share only one bit of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

Your father was right in challenging you to pursue an undergraduate college degree that was marketable. This drove you to an engineering degree. Although you had always wanted to be a lawyer and the liberal arts track was the more traditional way into law school, your engineering degree will give you exponentially greater opportunities in law and in business.

Katie Horvath is the CEO of Naveego in Traverse City. Reach her at katie.horvath@naveego.com.

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