Updated: Oct 12, 2021
Last week while preparing for International Day of the Girl and in thinking about this year’s theme “Digital Generation, Our Generation”, I reached out to women in our community who are currently leaders in the S.T.E.M. field to learn more about their experiences and the paths that led them to their current roles. I wanted to know how they got there and how our girls could get there. Between laughs and storytelling these women left me with some very inspiring and important words of wisdom. Here’s what I learned:
1. You cannot be what you don’t see.
Elizabeth Collins Burkhart, Executive Vice President of Collins Engineers, Inc., is the daughter of a civil engineer and she deeply appreciated the path and life that her father was able to create with his career. She married her passion for building with financial freedom. Miya Gray was encouraged to participate in a program through the Society of Women Engineers at Jefferson junior high school in Washington D.C. and met engineers that she admired and other girls like her that she could relate to. Her math teacher helped her complete the application for summer programs that ultimately helped her decide that this was the field for her. Katie Palencsar didn’t know a world that combined advocacy for women and technology existed growing up in her small central PA town. After a career as a New York City public school teacher that led her into educational technology, a technology based woman CEO helped her imagine a career path in venture capital specifically for female-founded financial technology companies.
2. Middle school is a pivotal point for girls to actively engage into paths that lead to STEM based careers.
Math and Science lay the foundation for many of the careers that are STEM focused. Fostering a love in these subjects is a key element in making sure more girls enter STEM careers in the future. Ilene Landon, a Senior VP of Global Professional Services at HireVue, loved Math and Science growing up. Miya Gray was an exceptional mathematician in middle and high school. She grew that actively through her career but recognized the importance of sticking with it from an early age. Elizabeth Bukhart’s firm is actively connecting with middle schools like Washington School for Girls and Trinity High School in River Forest, IL to advocate for more girls that have the potential to move into civil engineering.
3. The use of technology is multifaceted in STEM careers.
For Ilene Landon, the use of technology starts within her own team. She uses things like Slack, Salesforce, and Google suite to manage her team's projects, metrics, and documentation. Projects are also technology based as her team implements software for clients; she interacts with customers and her team via Zoom. Still Elizabeth Burkhart’s speciality in civil engineering is building and repairing ports. She uses technology to inspect and assess infrastructure. Miya Grey is responsible for creating novel digital experiences for patients, doctors and colleagues linked to Pfizer.
4. STEM Career women are “people” people
I learned that you can love the very concrete and structured business of S.T.E.M. focused careers with its math and hard lines AND be customer facing, empathetic to your team, and staked in your womanhood. There was a common voice among all the women that I spoke to that women are emotionally connected--not emotional.
5. Women are actively changing the landscape of STEM leadership
Katie Palencsar realized that the world of female financial technology innovators was small and that she could play a major role in elevating the voice of female founders through venture capital. She is an advocate for women-led technology companies. She helps them reach their full potential by making sure they have the resources they need to be competitive in the market. Miya Gray takes her role as a leader seriously by making sure the people that she leads on her team are able to use their voice and present their ideas in larger company wide meetings. She recognizes her power and uses it to uplift others on her team. Ilene Landon started a mentoring program within her company to help grow female leadership within HireVue and give them a space to ask questions and learn from leaders like her.
Elizabeth Collins Burkhart, P.E. currently serves as Executive Vice President for Collins Engineers, Inc. She initially pursued a structural engineering degree because she could use science and technology to solve practical problems. As a result, Liz has spent over 20 years designing, maintaining, and managing civil infrastructure, including navigation structures and roadway assets.
Miya Gray currently serves as the Vice President of Customer Experience and Engagement (CX&E) at Pfizer. Miya is a results-driven and customer-focused executive leader who brings 20 years of experience in customer experience and engagement, and healthcare and medical technology.
Ilene Landon is Senior VP of Global Professional Services at HireVue, the market leader in video interviewing, assessments, and candidate engagement. She is also a mentor and coach, has established workplace mentoring programs for women, and has a passion for helping women find their swagger and confidence.
Katie Palencsar is Managing Director and Global Head of Venture Studio at Anthemis Group where she leads the Female Innovators Lab in partnership with Barclays, dedicated to investing in early stage female founders in fintech. Previously she founded and led data SaaS company, Unbound Concepts from ideation to exit. A first generation college graduate and former New York City DOE teacher, her passion lies in building opportunities for diverse talent in investment and technology.