Panelists, from left, Gail Edwards, dean of Gwinnett Technical College’s Automotive, Construction and Trades college, Mary Hester, President and Chief Executive Officer of LAN Systems, Louise Scott, regional Chief Information Officer with Southern Company and moderator Yvonne Whitaker of the NCR Foundation discuss women in technology at a networking event on Thursday at Gwinnett Tech. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)
LAWRENCEVILLE — When Gail Edwards was a youngster, her family’s neighbors often asked if she could babysit their kids. But Edwards would respond that she’d rather cut grass.
“I’ve always thought differently than most women,” said Edwards, the dean of the Automotive, Construction and Trades College at Gwinnett Technical College.
Edwards was among a panel of experts who spoke to Gwinnett Tech students, mostly women, at a networking and discussion event about women in technology on Thursday at the Busbee Center. Topics of the discussion included salary, education, ageism, experience and support in the male-dominated industries of science, technology, engineering and math.
Moderator Yvonne Whitaker of the NCR Foundation said there is still a gap on the pay scale between men and women, but the pay scale is also going up. Whitaker and all of the panelists said students should network, find mentors in their field, but also among their peers and look for support, “because there will be challenges.”
She said women make up 48 percent of the workforce, but only 24 percent of women are in STEM.
“Female welders get placed faster than our male welders,” Edwards said, “because they make their weld so pretty.”
Last year, Gwinnett Tech launched a Women in Technology program that was designed to help young women better understand opportunities in the STEM fields. The program was piloted at Gwinnett Tech and four other area colleges: Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, Kennesaw State University and Spelman College.
Gwinnett Tech’s vice president of academic affairs Victoria Seals said the college sees the most growth in health and technology fields.
“It’s the wave of the future, that’s why we’ve invested in it as a college,” President Sharon Bartels said.
Bartels said the highlights from the event were to stay confident, learn your field, use technology as trump card and make your own decisions.
Louise Scott, a panelist and a regional chief information officer with the Southern Company, earned degrees in fine arts and mechanical engineering, and encouraged students to pursue passions, but added, “you’ve got to make a living, too.”
Mary Hester, president and chief executive officer of LAN Systems, and Scott, both have career experience in the utility industry. Hester said she pursued an electrical engineering degree because it paid the highest.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or woman, technology pays,” Hester said.
Hester also encouraged the women to use interpersonal skills and circular thinking, skills they typically have more than men, and to promote themselves.
“We don’t really toot our own horns enough,” Hester said. “It’s good to say, ‘I did it and I’m proud of it.’”
“Do not be intimidated,” she said. “If you have the capability to understand the curriculum, don’t sell yourself short.”