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    What it Means to Increase Women in STEM

    June 8, 2021

    The entire world has been affected by the pandemic for more than a year. Another important shift has been around social movements and with that, the increased focus, or recalibration, around DEI—diversity, equity, and inclusion.

    Of course, the DEI movement is not new. It has been percolating for many years with periodic bursts of greater visibility. The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite was created five years ago to highlight the lack of diversity among award nominees. The #MeToo movement highlighted sexual abuse and harassment in the workplace, primarily against women, since 2017. These and other movements shed light on such issues in our culture and society around the world. After all, we are humans who need to be reminded on a regular basis how to live and work with people from different backgrounds.

    SMPTE formed its DEI Committee in 2019. This group, led by Membership Vice President Renard Jenkins, identified courses of action that SMPTE can take to support DEI efforts in the industry. Among the DEI initiatives, our standards community addressed the use of offensive language in technology spheres. SMPTE took the lead in changing the use of terms such as “master and slave” systems, “black/whitelisting,” and other similar terminologies. There is much more to be done, and SMPTE is committed to making a significant impact toward this.

    The lack of women in technology is one aspect of DEI on which I am particularly focused. According to the data, women make up 47% of the workforce in the U.S. But when we look at the top tech companies (Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Google, and Microsoft), this percentage drops to slightly more than 20%. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women make up only 15% of engineers and just 27% of all STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math).

    When it comes to media technology, we all know very well that there are far too few women in our industry. Indeed, according to SMPTE membership data, women account for only about 10% of the membership. It has been an issue for years, even for decades; so, how do we change it? How can SMPTE make a difference?

    When we talk about bringing more women into the media technology industry, I believe we must look at the pipeline. We have to ask why girls are not choosing STEM fields as areas of focus in high school, and possibly even in grade school.

    While doing some research on the topic, I discovered a variety of approaches to changing this equation. One set of ideas from Western Governors University resonated with me. The points raised make a lot of sense to me, and they would be relatively easy to implement in order to change the culture and eventually effect real change.

    First, we must highlight our women technology leaders. We need to recognize the achievements of so many women in our industry. This can take the form of awards and leadership roles on Boards, committees, programming, and so on. As the saying goes, “you have to see it to believe it.”

    Next, we need to engage young girls with all the many career choices that are available from STEM education. Electrical engineering or computer science can easily lead to a productive and rewarding career in media technology.

    And we must combat sexism. We must work together at all levels, from academia to corporations to policymaking, to ensure that women have a level playing field to compete fairly.

    SMPTE is contributing to a significant change through its DEI initiative. I am eager to work toward increasing the balance of women in SMPTE. If you are interested in joining this effort, reach out and get involved. You can contact me at blange@smpte.org.

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    Barbara Lange

    Barbara Lange joined SMPTE as Executive Director in January 2010.   Founded in 1916, SMPTE is the global professional association that supports the technical framework and professional community which makes quality motion imaging available to consumers in a variety of media formats.  Ms. Lange’s portfolio includes executing on the SMPTE Board of Governors’ strategic vision and to ensure the Society’s continued relevance in an ever-evolving media ecosystem.  Under Ms. Lange’s leadership, membership has grown by more than 30% globally, more than 200 leading-edge industry standards have been published -- including industry game-changers such as Interoperable Master Format (IMF), High Dynamic Range (HDR), and Video Over IP -- and the Society has educated thousands of professionals on critical technical topics.  Today, Ms. Lange’s focus is implementing a 3-year strategic business plan that will further SMPTE’s visibility and relevance with an emphasis on attracting a younger and more diverse membership demographic.  In 2015, Ms. Lange led the acquisition of the Hollywood Professional Association (HPA), a leading trade association focused on the application of technology in the creation, distribution and consumption of professional media content; she now also serves as HPA Executive Director.  Ms. Lange holds a BA in Chemistry and German from Washington and Jefferson College, and completed the Executive Development Program at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.  Prior to joining SMPTE she held executive roles in scholarly publishing at highly respected organizations including Springer-Verlag and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Ms. Lange has been recognized by IEEE, Washington & Jefferson College, and honored with TVNewscheck’s 2020 Women in Technology Award for her role in “making a difference in the media industry”.

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