Kat is an avid arts, education, and STEM advocate who has inspired nearly $6 million in individual and corporate philanthropy over 7 years. Prior to TFI, Kat supported the missions of Urban Arts Partnership, New York Hall of Science, The Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, and the Wellesley Centers for Women developing individual and corporate donor strategy, producing Galas and intimate cultivation events, advising on and implementing board governance best practices, and creating and managing relationship development systems pertaining to major gifts, annual fund, capital campaign, and special project initiatives.
We sat down with her ahead of her presentation at the Women In Enterprise Summit, taking place in Boston this October 25-26.
How did you get started in STEM education?
Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) have been fascinating for me for as long as I can remember. I enjoyed and excelled in these subjects in middle and high school, but I was somewhat deterred in college. There seemed to be a large cultural chasm between the ‘Science Center’ students and the humanities students. I attempted to bridge that divide by majoring in Media Arts and Sciences, fusing visual arts with computer science. After I came to New York, I saw an opportunity to continue to bridge arts and STEM – STEAM – at the New York Hall of Science. That was where I came to fully understand the importance of STEM education to critical thinking, workforce development, and social mobility.
What challenges do you feel you’ve faced as a result of being a woman?
As I mentioned before, I attended a single-sex institution for my undergraduate degree, which somewhat insulated me from the STEM gender gap. However, as I moved through the world outside of Wellesley, I quickly realized that women are not expected to be good at math or know (or even be curious about) how things work. As a result, I often find myself being ‘mansplained’ to, especially when I am in traditionally male spaces like computer science forums, engineering talks, or even XKCD book signings. I work primarily in the social enterprise and philanthropy spaces where the same sort of interactions tend to happen.
Do you think it is up to companies to solve the gender gap in industries such as STEM, or do the issues run deeper than that - back to experiences in early life and education, and the negative impact of prevalent stereotypes that sciences and engineering are for boys, and humanities are for girls?
It is absolutely up to companies to solve the gender gap. More than that, it is up to companies to partner with the social sector to learn about and mitigate the barriers to women in STEM from early life and education onward. This is a societal issue that should be solved as a society. The socialization of women away from STEM is a behavior pattern that deprives the world of greatness.
Female scientists and engineers make up 41% of entry and mid-level professionals, yet 52% of women in STEM quit their jobs by mid-career. What do you think could be done to correct this attrition rate?
ATTITUDES AND POLICIES AROUND WORK-LIFE BALANCE! If, for example, a woman wants to get a Ph.D. in a STEM field, they will likely spend around 6 years completing the degree and another two or three years in post-doc fellowships. Assuming they went straight into their Ph.D. studies after undergrad, they are likely in their early thirties, peak childbearing years. Women have to weigh the opportunity cost of having children and having a career because of work environment cultures that reflect traditional male gender roles.
Even if a woman didn’t get a Ph.D. and works in a STEM field, she would still face a dearth of places to pump breast milk or inflexible personal time policies to care for a sick child or the myriad of things that come with having a family. To add insult to injury, post-doctoral positions are often not considered part of the workforce and thus exempt from the Family and Medical Leave Act. As Dr. Erin Cadwalader noted in her 2013 Huffington Post article, “Between the chilly work environments, unconscious bias, wage gap, and a lack of policies to support work and family needs, the current practices in this country make STEM careers seem like a more questionable path for women than ought to be the case.”
The best things a company can do to plug the women in STEM pipeline leak is to provide adequate (read:2-3 months) paid maternity and paternity leave, company-sponsored childcare, flexible scheduling, and family healthcare benefits. These benefits build the on-ramp back into the workforce so that women (who want children) are not forced to find a job outside of STEM that has more flexibility for their new circumstances.
What impact on workplace diversity do you will think will come from changes to the nature of employment? Will more people working remotely in the future improve things, or does it hamper innovation?
Based upon the infrastructural barriers to women (and minorities) in general, I think many have looked to entrepreneurship and consultancy as a way forward.
Consider what I call “the consultant mystique” where an entity (for profit or nonprofit) decides that instead of using their internal resources to get something done (and saving money and considerable getting-up- to-speed time), they hire an outside consultant who they assume has more experience than anyone in the organization, is objective, and has a magic technique to solve their problems. While these are by no means all of the reasons why an entity would hire a consultant, these are the fallacies that support consultants being paid several times more than an employee doing the same job. Furthermore, being a consultant offers a high level of flexibility and freedom, allowing women in STEM who want families to have children and easily “on ramp” into work. Women and minorities might also consider that employers are significantly less loyal to their employees than they were in the past (at-will employment, mass-layoffs, and little to no pension). Why work for someone else being subject to inadequate benefits, race- and gender-based wage gaps, and little stability when one can work for themselves doing exactly what they love, being paid multiple times more than an employee would, and innovating new business models that use mass collaboration and online communities to pioneer a new age of social business?
The logical conclusion is that employers, in an effort to stop their talent from deserting them, will have to change their benefit and pay policies to adapt to a workforce that just won’t settle. This coupled with the fact that organizations with more gender and racial diversity at the top perform better in the marketplace may make these changes a matter of commercial life or death.
What will you be discussing in your presentation?
Given my zeal for the previous questions, I will likely be discussing women’s role in STEM education and women’s entrepreneurship as a potential solution.
You can hear more from Kat, along with other leading women in enterprise, at the Women In Enterprise Summit. To register, click here.