Women in Nuclear and the NEI's "Grow Your Own" Approach
1/28/13 4:58 PM
By Mike Lesczinski, Excelsior Life News Staff--
When Elizabeth McAndrew-Benavides of the Nuclear Energy institute (NEI) was seven years old, she told her parents of her dream to be an astronaut. And with her parents support, she remained committed to that goal, eventually earning a STEM degree and while not making it to space, she did find her place in the nuclear field.
Unfortunately, McAndrew-Benavides is a growing exception rather than the rule as an increasing number of women either leave the STEM fields by mid-career or choose a different career path altogether. One of the main culprits remains academic - while women constitute 51 percent of the population, more than 75 percent of STEM degrees in the U.S. are awarded to males.
“There is an insufficient number of minorities and females coming through (STEM) programs to be eligible for (STEM) jobs,” said McAndrew-Benavides.
That’s one of the reasons Dr. Jane LeClair, dean of Excelsior College’s School of Business and Technology and a twenty-year veteran of the nuclear industry, launched a series of initiatives in 2011 aimed at recruiting and retaining more women into the technology fields, including a webinar series and scholarship program.
In January, Dr. LeCLair welcomed McAndrew-Benavides for a “Women in Nuclear” webinar focused on current higher education/industry collaborative retention efforts. The wide-ranging discussion between the two experts broached many subjects, including the NEI’s “Grow Your Own Approach.”
“[It’s} a simple concept…we move beyond ready now candidates and industry, academics and other stakeholders work together to systematically improve retention efforts and attract new candidates,” said McAndrew-Benavides.
At its core, the NEI is advocating that the industry become more proactive in terms of workforce development. Companies can no longer wait for female college graduates to apply for positions. Instead, business must work with academic institutions, labor organization and the military, who can in turn, work with high school and younger populations, to identify academic “sticky points” for women and determine solutions that will keep more of them in the STEM fields.
Other solutions McAndrew-Benavides offered during the hour long conversation included companies offering their charitable contributions to local STEM partnerships that target increasing diversity participation and encouraging employees to participate in STEM-related activities within their local school systems.