SANDY, Utah (ABC4) – Emma Thomas, a senior at Pleasant Grove High School, has always wanted a career in STEM, but, if the statistics are indicative of the field, the odds don’t swing in her direction. 

According to Cydni Tetro, president of the Women Tech Council, a Utah-based national organization focused on growing and promoting female STEM talent, although the workforce as a whole is 50% female, only 26% of those working in tech are women. And the number is even lower in Utah, resting at about 23.5%. 

And this is certainly not due to women’s lack of talent, drive, or interest. The STEM industry — which is an acronym encapsulating jobs in the realms of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — has historically been very male-dominated. Reports of sexism in educational departments and workplaces, as well as a lack of female role models, have contributed to an absence of young women pursuing STEM as a career.  

“In technology in general women are underrepresented,” Tetro says. “What we’ve learned from the 9th to 12th grade high school girls [in Utah] is that 90% of them don’t know any women in STEM and they don’t have any role models.”

And with this in mind, Tetro and her team at the Women Tech Council are working to shift the industry. By spearheading events and educational programs focused on introducing young women to STEM, they’ve inspored Thomas, along with at least 30,000 other young women in Utah, to emerge into their education and careers with a goal of working — and thriving — in STEM. 

SheTech Explorer Day, photo courtesy of the Women Tech Council

As part of this work, SheTech, a STEM-focused career-building program provided to high school girls as part of work by the Women Tech Council, hosted their eighth annual Explorer Day on Tuesday, March 1. During the event, girls from over 100 schools across Utah gathered in Sandy’s Mountain Expo Center for hands-on experiences with elements of STEM like 3-D printing, virtual reality, drones, aerospace, and robotics. They also got the opportunity to meet mentors from over 250 tech companies like Vivint Smart Home, Dell Technologies, and Clearlink. 

“I’ve always loved math and science, so I took a lot of classes, but there weren’t many girls in them, especially in the seventh and eighth grades,” Thomas remembers. “So, when I joined SheTech it really opened my eyes to how many girls want to pursue STEM.”

Explorer Day isn’t the only event SheTech puts on, either. According to Tetro, many schools have SheTech clubs, and the wider organization hosts events almost once per month. The program also provides summer internship opportunities and gives SheTech graduates special cords to wear during their high school graduation ceremonies. 

“SheTech is all about creating this exposure and activation for them with mentors and role models and hands-on so that they can see how they can do tech and how it’s part of everything they already do today,” Tetro says. “It’s just really cool that you can provide these ways to reinforce the incredible talent that we have and the opportunities that they can now see themselves inside of.”

And while encouraging women in STEM is important across the globe — SheTech also has Explorer Day events in Colorado and Idaho — Utah makes for a great center of the movement due to our proximity to growing presence of tech in our Silicon Slopes region.  

SheTech Explorer Day, photo courtesy of the Women Tech Council

“When you look at the tech ecosystem here in Silicon Slopes, we have 4,000 technology jobs. They pay more than the industry average across the state and they provide great opportunities for impact on community,” Tetro says. “We need that perspective and talent of those young women helping to guide what we’re doing in technology.”

And so, with more and more young women realizing and bring to fruition their STEM dreams, the tides set in motion by the aforementioned harrowing statistics might just be changing. 

SheTech already boasts many success stories, Tetro says.  

She specifically mentions one young woman who — after joining the SheTech network during her sophomore year of high school — proceeded to fail her very first computer science test. Dejected, the girl first assumed that perhaps STEM just wasn’t for her. However, instead of giving up, she decided to try again, and dove headfirst into SheTech, immersing herself and becoming very engaged and involved with the organization. Not only did she go on to found a SheTech chapter at her school, she also became her school’s Sterling Scholar, an honor given at each Utah high school to recognize an outstanding senior.

“The opportunity she had to get involved with SheTech to meet these women [role models], to gain that confidence and to see those pathways made a huge difference for where she headed,” Tetro says. “And that’s what we want, right? We want all of these young women to see whatever you’re passionate about, we promise you that technology is part of it.”

And there are more and more women in STEM success stories being written every day.  

Thomas says that after her graduation she plans to attend Utah Valley University to study computer science. And, though she doesn’t know what exact field she’s headed to yet, she’s definitely hoping for big things in tech.

“Sometimes you don’t really hear a lot about women in STEM, and [SheTech] has really taught me that you can go anywhere, no matter what gender you are, how much education you have, or what your circumstances are like,” Thomas says.