By Dr. Jane LeClair (Dean, School of Business & Technology, Excelsior College)
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that women are underrepresented in the technology fields.

The numbers are stark: today women earn less than 20% of engineering degrees in the United States. For those women who do enter the tech industries, an incredible 56% leave by mid-career. In fact, I myself left the nuclear field after two-plus decades, for a new career in academia. It is for that very reason that I’ve made the issue of “women in tech” a cornerstone of my time at Excelsior College. My goal is to increase academic retention rates for women through increased educational partnerships between higher education and the private tech sectors.

There is hope for those women currently in the field and professional organizations are a big reason why.

As someone who worked in the industry and continues to consult for the International Atomic Energy Agency, I understand the challenges that women face in negotiating the “glass maze” of prerequisite positions, interviews, qualifications comparisons, time in grade, and other confusing practices typical of high technology.

And, I understand how important professional organizations like the American Nuclear Society (ANS) were in helping me overcome these challenges – and how vital ANS and similar organizations continue to be for others.

Professional organizations are more than national networking groups. They are beacons of development, helping to produce more productive employees and a more knowledgeable and skilled workforce. They provide mentoring to those who feel overwhelmed or are unsure of the correct career path. They provide opportunities for continuing education and they act as one of the best recruiting tools just as demand for labor in the tech sector looks set to skyrocket.

In fact, within the nuclear field alone, demand for nuclear power plant technicians is expected to grow by 19% over the coming decades. And with the shrinking white male demographic constituting 67% of employed engineers, the need and opportunity for women and minority engineers over the coming years couldn’t be greater.

We’ll discuss these issues and more during an upcoming Excelsior College webinar “Women in Nuclear: How Professional Organizations Can Help Women Negotiate the Glass Maze” on January 25, 2012. The event, part of Excelsior College’s School of Business & Technology’s “Women in Tech” series, will be held in recognition of National Nuclear Science Week.

Our esteemed panel will include Coleen Ware of the Tennessee Valley Authority, Erin West of North America – Young Generation in Nuclear, and the ANS’s Margaret Harding. Many of you may remember Margaret from her television advocacy on behalf of the nuclear industry in the aftermath of the Fukushima crisis last March. She was everywhere it seemed, appearing on Fox, NBC and MSNBC among other major networks.

It should be a great webinar as each of our guests discusses their own industry experiences, the benefits of professional organizations, and, of course, paths toward future prosperity for women in the tech fields.

The free event will be held at 7pm EST on January 25, so I would like to encourage everyone to register!

Happy New Year.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.
Photo credit: Patricia Araque from the November 2011 Women 2.0 Founder Friday event in Madrid
About the guest blogger: Dr. Jane LeClair is the Dean of the school of Business and Technology at Excelsior College in Albany, New York. She continues to collaborate with the nuclear industry. Dr. Jane LeClair worked in the nuclear industry for Constellation Energy for 20 years. She served as Chair of the Education and Training Division and the American Society of Engineering Education, where she was Region Chair of St. Lawrence Section of ASEE and worked with International Atomic Energy Agency.