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March 2017

Rail News: Supplier Spotlight

GE aims to close the gender gap to be viewed as a high-tech job destination for all

Millie Dresselhaus, the late professor emeritus of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was recently featured in a GE commercial promoting women in science. Dresselhaus died last month at 86.
Photo – GE

By Julie Sneider, senior associate editor

Last month, GE announced a goal to employ 20,000 women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) roles — with 50-50 male-female representation in all of its entry-level technical programs — by 2020.

The company set the goal to "inject urgency" into ending the gender imbalance in technical fields. That imbalance must be addressed to "fully transform GE into a digital industrial company," GE officials say.

"We believe a company that changes the world should reflect the world — that's why we set this aggressive goal," says Athena Kaviris, senior human resources leader at GE Transportation. "Just hiring talented women isn’t enough. We have to recruit the best, retain them and spread the word to make sure people really view GE as a destination for high-tech jobs."

The initiative will apply to all the company's divisions including GE Transportation, which serves the rail industry.

Along with its announcement, GE released a white paper titled "Engineering the Future: The Socio-Economic Case for Gender Equality," which highlights the lower rate of women serving in technology and engineering and makes the economic case for closing the gender gap.

Women account for 47 percent of total U.S. employment, but only 14 percent of all engineers and 25 percent of IT professionals. That gender gap is preventing the technology and engineering sectors from contributing as much as possible to the U.S. economy, according to the report's authors, GE Chief Economist Marco Annunziata and GE Global Economist Kimberly Chase.

The stakes of filling high-tech jobs will become greater as technology evolves, affecting more jobs that require advanced skills, Annunziata and Chase wrote. Over the next decade, the U.S. alone will need to fill about 2 million engineering and computing jobs, they said.

"As new technologies require new abilities, the risk of the skills gap widening will only become greater," the authors wrote. "We need to close the gender gap and leverage our entire talent pool."

Over the years, GE has implemented a number of strategies to draw more women into high-tech jobs, says Kaviris. Today, 18 percent to 20 percent of jobs in GE’s overall professional workforce fall under the STEM categories. And, GE employs about 15,000 women in its technical entry-level positions.

While the company has made progress, more needs to be done to recruit and retain more female engineers and IT employees.

GE intends to meet its new goal in part by building on established career-development efforts such as its Edison Engineering Development Program (EEDP), an intensive early-career plan for engineers. EEDP already has achieved a 50-50 gender ratio among its participants, "and that is one area where we feel great about the progress," says Kaviris.

Female employees also are being encouraged to tap into GE's Women's Network, a career advancement effort that builds leadership skills. Additionally, the company is expanding "GE Girls," a program designed to encourage school-age girls to explore STEM education and careers. Launched in 2011, GE Girls has hosted events for female high-schoolers at nine U.S. universities. Last year, GE Girls launched the "GE Girls Club" to encourage participants to stay connected to STEM education during their high-school years.

"But, we obviously can do more," says Kaviris. "The technical and engineering sectors are still very male dominated, and the pipeline for future talent is probably not transitioning as fast as we need it to. That’s all the more reason for us to spread the STEM message."

Another way GE hopes to achieve its goal: make sure employee recruitment activities include colleges and universities that enroll a higher percentage of female students.

"We've had a great tradition of building relationships through existing alumni and penetrating those schools in a positive way," says Kaviris. "As we examine those programs further, it's important to make sure they're representative of the 50-50 percentage we're looking for."

Besides publishing the white paper, GE has promoted its gender-parity goal and spread the STEM word via television commercials that ask, "What if female scientists were treated like celebrities?" One commercial features the late Mllie Dresselhaus, a professor emeritus of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dresselhaus, who died last month, was known as the "queen of carbon" because of her research of carbon nanotubes.

A goal that helps other companies, too
Although GE's goal is specific to its own workforce, its effort serves as a beacon to highlight the transportation industry’s need to recruit and retain more women into STEM and other jobs, according to the leader of WTS International, a U.S.-based global organization that promotes advancement of women in transportation.

"I think it is a huge benefit to have large corporations like GE get behind the goal of closing the gender gap in STEM," says WTS Chairwoman Diane Woodend Jones. "I applaud them for doing this."

WTS has chapters worldwide — including 74 in the United States — that offer networking, professional development, education and mentoring for women who work in transportation or are studying to get there.

Last year, women made up 10 percent of the rail-industry workforce and nearly 24 percent of the transportation and warehousing sectors, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This year, WTS has set a new goal toward narrowing the gender gap by doubling the number of WTS chapters on college and university campuses to help connect female students with transportation employers. Currently, there are 14 WTS campus chapters.

However, exposing young women to transportation career opportunities should really start when they're still in middle and high school, Jones says. To that end, WTS began working with the U.S. Department of Transportation several years ago to launch Transportation YOU, an interactive mentoring program that introduces girls ages 13-18 to jobs in the industry.

WTS chapters offer Transportation YOU activities and events to encourage girls to take courses in math, science, and technology as a springboard to further study in STEM and transportation.

Making gender equality a goal and promoting more women to leadership roles in business not only fills job openings, it benefits the bottom line, says Jones.

"Many studies show that companies do better [economically] when they have more diversity in their workforce at all levels," she says.

GE's white paper makes the same point.

"Addressing the gender gap will create a more diverse workforce, and research shows that diverse teams are better at problem-solving and think more creatively," Annunziata and Chase wrote. "Unless they become more diverse, companies will not be able to cope with today’s more disruptive innovation environment."


Browse articles on GE STEM gender gap Athena Kaviris GE Transportation GE Women's Network GE Girls WTS International Diane Woodend Jones Transportation YOU

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