Opportunities and Inspiration

Women in STEM, Standards, and ASTM International

As I thought about this special themed issue on women in standards, I reflected on my early association with ASTM. As a recent chemical engineering graduate, I was hired in September 1984 as a staff manager to work with eight ASTM technical committees.

I became the sixth woman in a group of 20 staff managers. There were also several women on the senior management team and on the board of directors.

New to standards and ASTM, I soaked up all I could about the organization and often read back issues of Standardization News. One of the articles published earlier that same year was entitled “Hats Off to the Ladies.”

The article highlighted the efforts of The Marley Organization, which was known for tracking developments in standardization and related areas. The article praised TMO for having recognized women who had made a difference in standardization and conformity assessment. Twenty-five nominees had been submitted to TMO, all who had blazed new trails in their own right.

To this day, I have never forgotten that article. I specifically remember being impressed and feeling grateful:

  • Impressed because four of the 25 women nominated were ASTM staff (Virginia Ratcliffe, Martha Kirkaldy, Helen Davis, and Kathleen “Kitty” Riley);
  • Impressed even more because almost all of the other 21 nominees had involvement in ASTM; and
  • Grateful because it was apparent to me that I had entered an environment where there were women role models and where women were leading and being recognized for their contributions.

As I began working with the technical committees, it became obvious that there were various degrees of women’s involvement, depending on the industry. For example, while I saw very few women in the committee on shipbuilding (F25), there were large numbers, even a majority, of women on the committee on sensory evaluation (E18).

Many of these women members were leading their own businesses and serving committees in leadership capacities. I looked up to many of them, admiring their vision, their accomplishments, and their gravitas.
Since then, I’ve met a growing number of amazing women members, some of whom are featured in this issue.

For example, it was a true blessing to build lasting friendships with three women who would serve as board chairmen — Nancy Trahey (1993), Kitty Pilarz (2011), and Mary McKiel (2013). Each of these women took a personal interest in my development, and all three have had a significant impact on my career, as I’m sure they have for many other women in their fields.

In 2018, it is rewarding to see that ASTM now has 11 women staff managers, three women on the senior management team, three women on the board, and an ever-growing number of women committee members and leaders in ASTM activities.

Progress is being made, but we have further to go.

For example, in the United States — and I suspect throughout the world — STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) jobs are crucial to innovation and economic growth. A recent U.S. report notes that there is “clear evidence that there is an opportunity to expand the number of women in STEM, even as the gender balance of the overall labor force nears equality.” (Women constitute slightly more than half of college educated workers but make up only 25 percent of college educated STEM workers).1

The good news is that we’re seeing a movement to attract more women to fields like engineering.

For example, a few years ago I visited the campus of Rowan University and spoke with several young women students who had developed “Think Like a Girl” engineering kits, a monthly subscription service for boxes filled with activities aimed to get girls excited about science and math.

I headed to Rowan thinking that I would inspire these college students, but left feeling that they had inspired me. I told them that I hoped to see them making a difference in the ranks of ASTM International committees soon.

We all need to commit to mentoring and supporting the younger generations in whatever capacity we can.
I’m proud of ASTM’s academic initiatives and our internship and emerging professionals programs. I often think about how else to encourage young women in particular to pursue STEM careers and, then, to learn about and engage in areas such as standards and conformity assessment. If you have additional ideas about what ASTM or I could do in this regard, please do share them with me.

The standardization community, and ASTM from my personal experience, has led the way in providing opportunities for women.

For example, you’ll learn in this issue about the “Women in Standards” group that began about 15 years ago with a handful of women through the vision of Helen Delaney, ASTM’s Washington representative at the time. Today, the list for the group is several hundred strong, and we meet annually in January for dinner and networking. In between, the members of the group support, challenge, and motivate each other. Please join us.

Thirty-four years after joining the staff, I’m proud that ASTM is once again saying “Hats Off to the Ladies” — may we all continue to be surrounded by those that inspire and may we inspire those to come.

Katharine E. Morgan
President, ASTM International

1.  Noonan, Ryan, “Women in STEM: 2017 Update,” U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, Office of the Chief Economist, ESA Issue Brief #06-17, www.esa.doc.gov/sites/default/files/women-in-stem-2017-update.pdf.

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