With Google and Uber accused of gender discrimination and existing stereotypes about women in STEM fields, it might be easy for BYU’s female technology students to think they can’t succeed.
But Lisa Barrager has faith in them.
“(The technology field) is so demanding,” Barrager said. “(Our students) are smart and motivated and good at what they do.”
Barrager graduated from BYU in mechanical engineering, earned an MBA and is assistant to the dean in BYU’s Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology. Her job includes recruiting and retaining women in engineering and technology majors and helping them be successful on their career paths.
Barrager said she hopes people won’t focus on the negative stereotypes sometimes surrounding women in technology.
“The last thing a female student needs is to prove a bad stereotype,” Barrager said. “They don’t want to come across as unintelligent or incompetent.”
And with Utah being home to the “Silicon Slopes” — the area between Salt Lake City and Provo that’s home to booming technology companies, six of which are on Forbes’ 2017 Cloud 100 list — there have never been more opportunities in technology for Utah women.
“I think (being a woman) does a lot more to help more than it’s a challenge,” said Chloe Brogan, a senior studying engineering technology. “I’m sure that stereotypes exist, but for the most part, people usually don’t at least say stereotypes.”
Brogan started as a math education major but switched to manufacturing engineering technology when she realized she was interested in more than just math. Though she’s seen evidence of some sexism in her field, she said simply communicating can help the issue.
“Just explain to people that what they said was inappropriate (and) teach them how to say things in the future,” Brogan said.
BYU electrical and computer engineering professor Cammy Peterson said women speaking up for themselves could also help combat stereotypes.
“A lot of time, our bosses don’t see the good stuff we’re doing, so if we’re not the ones explaining that, we’re the ones getting passed up,” Peterson said.
Peterson received undergraduate and master’s degrees in applied physics at BYU and received her doctorate in aerospace and dynamics from Johns Hopkins University. She worked in the engineering field for over 15 years before joining the department about a year ago.
Peterson said technology is a great field for women.
“We need more diversity in order to create better products, and to create the solutions, we need people from different backgrounds,” Peterson said. “Women are not getting their voices heard as much as they can.”
She also said technology is a good option for women who want to start families.
“A lot of engineering companies are willing to be flexible, let you work from home (or) let you set your own hours,” Peterson said. “So it’s a good job … even if you just want to teach your kids calculus at home.”
No matter a woman’s reasons, technology is a good field “for just generally teaching you how to solve problems and overcome challenges,” Peterson said.
Brogan said she enjoys learning in her field.
“I think just learning how things work (and) how things come together (is the best part),” Brogan said.
BYU currently has two organizations for women in technology: BYU Women in Technology and BYU Women in Engineering and Technology. Follow their Facebook pages and websites for information about upcoming events.