Microsoft Research Blog

The Microsoft Research blog provides in-depth views and perspectives from our researchers, scientists and engineers, plus information about noteworthy events and conferences, scholarships, and fellowships designed for academic and scientific communities.

Rallying Women to STEM Careers

December 28, 2012 | By Microsoft blog editor

We know our science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workforce is crucial to America’s innovative capacity and global competitiveness. Yet women are vastly underrepresented in these fields. The 2009 US Census reveals that although women fill close to half of all jobs in the country’s economy, they hold less than 25 percent of the STEM jobs. This has been the case throughout the past decade, even as college-educated women have increased their share of the overall workforce. We simply must do more to expose young women to the opportunities in STEM fields.

Munmun De Choudhury, a postdoctoral researcher at Microsoft Research, spoke at the TEDxWomenSouthLakeUnion event in Seattle on December 1, 2012.

It was with this goal in mind that Microsoft Research Connections, Women in Bio Seattle Metro, and University of Washington’s Women in Informatics joined forces to support the December 1 TEDxWomenSouthLakeUnion event in Seattle. This was one of more than 100 local TEDxWomen gatherings held around the world on November 30 and December 1, all of them tied into the TEDxWomen 2012 event in Washington, DC, and together comprising an international call for the full participation of women and their ideas, their experiences, their compassion and convictions, their activism, and their artistry.

I was honored to serve as one of the co-hosts of this year’s Seattle event. While we streamed live talks from the TEDxWomen event in Washington, DC, we also pursued our local goal of attracting more women to STEM fields. To this end, we brought together top women in science, engineering, research, and technology from across the Puget Sound region. These STEM leaders influenced and networked with freshman and sophomore women from the University of Washington, encouraging them to pursue majors in STEM disciplines.

This year’s TEDxWomen theme was the Space Between, an exploration of what it means to live in a time of extremes, where the dialog is very much black and white even though we know our world is gray. Today’s conversations are typically framed in terms of binary extremes: men versus women, rich versus poor, liberal versus conservative, peace versus war, the haves versus the have-nots. But we know better: the world is a web of spectrums, not a linear standoff of polarities.

Our event dived into “the space between,” featuring two stellar local speakers whose talks focused on the space between our intellectual and emotional intelligence and the impact of digital technologies in this interstitial realm. Katie Davis, an assistant professor at the University of Washington Information School, discussed how digital media technologies like Facebook, Twitter, and smartphones have altered the contexts in which young people grow up. She focused on three key areas: young people’s identity (experiences of themselves), intimacy (their relationships), and imagination (their world of ideas and creative expression). As Katie explained, these “three i’s” underlie what it means to be human, and they ultimately shape—and are shaped by—the society in which we live.

Our second speaker, Munmun De Choudhury, a postdoctoral researcher at Microsoft Research, discussed how emotions fundamentally direct our attention and responses to our environment, framing our attitudes and influencing our social relationships. As online social networking tools continue to gain traction among individuals, they provide a unique platform to understand human expression—whether thoughts, emotions, or opinions. Munmun described how an understanding of the rich landscape of emotions will help us better interpret the behavior of millions, while at the same time making individuals more “emotionally intelligent” by enabling them to reflect on their emotional experiences.

We also featured a bonus session: a screening of Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s Sundance documentary, Miss Representation, a powerful exploration of how the media’s many misrepresentations of women contribute to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence. The film features interviews with leading politicians, journalists, entertainers, activists, and academics, including Condoleezza Rice, Nancy Pelosi, Rachel Maddow, and Gloria Steinem.

Rane Johnson at the TEDxWomenSouthLakeUnion event in SeattleIt was exciting to be part of a global event with a local spin, especially since the day was full of inspiration and activism. You could feel the energy of women ready to go out and make changes in the Puget Sound region and throughout the world. It was exhilarating to hear students, who had yet to declare their majors, express their desire to pursue majors in computer science and information science after the talks from Katie and Munmun.

The three co-hosting organizations have agreed to sponsor the event again next year. We look forward to an even bigger and better conference that lasts multiple days! Keep in touch and visit the TEDxSouthLakeUnionWomen webpage next autumn to learn how you can join the event.

 —Rane Johnson-Stempson, Education and Scholarly Communication Principal Research Director, Microsoft Research Connections

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