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Posted 10/29/2012

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By Raini Brunson

October 11-13, 2012, the 17th annual Women of Color Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Conference (WOCC) was held in Dallas, Texas at the Hilton Anatole Hotel. This year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) was selected by the Department of the Army to be the lead command in planning and coordinating the WOCC with the host organization, Career Communications Group, Inc.

The three-day conference celebrated the theme, Waves of Change, Oceans of Opportunity, featuring tracks on a variety of topics including: tips for integrating diversity into business practices; strategies for professional development including negotiation, communication techniques and building strategic partnerships; and perceptions of diversity and inclusion among business leaders. Throughout the conference, women from various organizations in the public and private sector were recognized as established leaders, or Technology All-Stars, and as emerging leaders, or Technology Rising Stars. Undergraduate and graduate students were also recognized as future STEM leaders during the Student Leadership Awards Dinner. Women were recognized in other areas, such as community service, affirmative action, new media, and managerial leadership. There was also a career fair and several receptions, at which attendees networked and representatives recruited for STEM-related positions within their organizations.

The Technology Recognition Luncheon keynote speaker was Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence, chief information officer (G-6) for the Department of the Army. She is the first woman to hold the position of G-6 for the Army. In her speech, Lawrence provided statistics on where the U.S. ranks in technology-related areas as compared with the rest of the world. She gave multiple examples of female CEOs, empowering the women in the audience with the words, “You can do it all.” Lawrence also challenged the audience to “turn the tide” by advancing STEM for women in organizations.

Lawrence’s comments are in synch with a large body of research showing that women are significantly under-represented in STEM career fields. A 2011 report on women in STEM from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration cited, “although women fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, they hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs.” Furthermore, “women hold a disproportionately low share of STEM undergraduate degrees, particularly in engineering.” Of the many possible factors contributing to the discrepancy between women and men in STEM jobs, findings of the report concluded that there is a need to encourage and support women in STEM.

USACE Commanding General Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick’s comments at the awards ceremony honoring Army award winners echoed the importance of supporting women in STEM. “The growth in STEM is going to be all about mentoring, and all of us are mentors in separate ways,” Bostick said. Bostick also outlined three steps to influence and create diversity and inclusion, acknowledging that we still have work to do; change requires a lot of personal courage; and that everything starts with leadership at the top.

The 2012 Army Award Winners recognized by USACE and the WOCC are Jovan Johnson-Griffin, senior program analyst for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers New Orleans District; Hokulii Tamayori, architectural designer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Honolulu District; Tamara Murphy, civil engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Wilmington District; Dr. Victoria Dixon, director of Human Relations/Equal Opportunity Programs for the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command in Alexandria, VA; Maj. Erica Johnson, associate program director for SAUSHEC Internal Medicine Residency and Infectious Disease Fellowship Programs at the San Antonio Military Medical Center; Master Sgt. Faith Alexander, equal opportunity advisor/facilitator/platform instructor for the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute. The three USACE winners were all recognized as Technology Rising Stars.

Each year, thousands of individuals from companies in the public and private sector and students from various universities and colleges converge at the Women of Color Conference seeking ways to advance diversity and leverage opportunities for women in STEM-related careers. The WOCC provides opportunities for the growth of STEM in order to shape, support, and promote America’s innovation, competitiveness, and future careers. The next Women of Color Conference is scheduled for October 17-19, 2013 at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, Texas.

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