A San Diego organization is recognizing women working in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math — otherwise known as STEM — and offering them support in businesses that can typically be dominated by male employees.
Athena, which was founded more than two decades ago and has offices all over San Diego County, is a volunteer organization that women in technology and life sciences positions are generally recruited into through their employers, said Cheryl K. Goodman, executive director.
The mission is to promote and recognize women in STEM, as well as provide leadership skills and networking opportunities, Goodman said during a recent interview at Athena’s Carmel Valley office.
“Men are very good at this,” she said. “Not to say that women are inferior at this, but women certainly are underrepresented, and it’s difficult if you’re a female CEO to find someone who understands your problems.”
Athena, which has more than 1,000 volunteer members, will hold regular CEO dinners for female leaders to discuss their issues and concerns.
Most of the problem-solving has to do with the businesses’ human resources departments, Goodman said. The best way for someone to get involved with Athena is for their company to approach the organization to help with its employee base through sponsorships, she said.
“If [businesses] have goals internally to have more engineers or scientists, then we help them through our negotiation classes,” said Goodman, who co-founded SoGloMo, a 360 degree marketing firm focused on mobile and social marketing. “It becomes a membership that the companies will extend to the employees.”
Athena will also regularly invite influential people, such as a former head negotiator for the FBI, to talk to women about how they can help in their careers.
“When this guy is negotiating, he’s negotiating for life and death,” Goodman said. “And when women are negotiating, they’re negotiating for the corner office. We bring in the best to share those skills and strategies with the community at large — hyper-focused on women — because there’s a correlation between lack of negotiation and women earning less.”
The biggest event the organization holds each year is its Pinnacle Awards, where women in STEM careers are honored and five high school females looking to pursue careers in STEM are given scholarships.
This year’s Pinnacle Awards will take place May 4 at the Hyatt Regency in La Jolla from 5 to 9 p.m. Individual seats cost $290, and tables cost $2,500 for 10 seats. Early registration is encouraged in anticipation of the event selling out, Goodman said.
Female STEM workers will be recognized in categories such as Individual in Life Sciences, Individual in Technology, Individual in Services, Individual in Education, Company/Organization, Biotech Startup and Tech Startup.
Industry leaders — both male and female — are also honored at the event.
“I think one of the biggest misconceptions about a women-supported organization is that our target market is only women,” Goodman said. “The reality is we work with men, and what we like to do is identify champions.”
But STEM is still a growing yet underrepresented field for women, she said.
Goodman said Athena hopes to inspire young girls to pursue such careers.
“It’s kind of a chicken and egg thing,” she said. “Data suggests that by eighth grade, a girl has made up her mind about what she can and can’t do. It is in that time that most girls decide they can’t be scientists because that’s what boys are good at. Our goal is to partner with organizations to council, train and inspire girls in schools to pursue careers in STEM.”
For this reason, she hopes parents will bring their daughters to the Pinnacle Awards.
“It’s an event where every young person will get to see the spectrum of innovation and what that looks like,” Goodman said, adding that now more than ever it is important for women to represent themselves in leadership roles. “We are a nonpartisan organization... but the culture we are living in today really highlights how important it is for women to be in leadership.”
For more information about Athena, visit www.athenasd.org