Editor’s note: Triangle Women in STEM and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina are hosting a conversation with APCO Worldwide’s Lisa Ross to explore the current challenges and opportunities in attracting, promoting and retaining local female professionals in STEM fields. The event is set for Thursday, March 30, from 5-6 p.m. at the Umstead Hotel & Spa in Cary. Jo Abernathy, Chief Information Officer for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, talks about Triangle Women in STEM’s efforts.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – An educated workforce with skills in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is crucial to America’s economic growth and global competitiveness. Despite progress in recent years, women account for half of the larger U.S. workforce and half of college-degree holders but hold less than 30 percent of all STEM jobs, according to U.S. Department of Commerce and National Science Foundation studies.

The Triangle is widely known as a growing destination for STEM companies and jobs. With top-tier research universities, major health systems, global tech companies, new tech start-ups and the Research Triangle Park, the Triangle is poised for significant growth in the coming years. Given the high-quality, well-paying jobs in STEM fields and the potential for massive growth, there is a huge opportunity before us. Triangle Women in STEM was formed to help us all seize that opportunity.

The Triangle Women in STEM’s vision is simply this: establish North Carolina’s Triangle region as the preeminent destination for women in STEM fields. Through partnerships with industries, universities, nonprofits and local governments, the organization will build a diverse community that values, respects and supports women in STEM. Ultimately, it aims to create an integrated ecosystem that engages, attracts, and supports women in STEM in their career, educational, and personal pursuits. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC) is proud to support this organization and its goals. With nearly 40 percent of our IT workforce, 40 percent of our company leadership and 75 percent of our overall workforce made up by women, this initiative is personal to us. Other top companies have already signed on to support Triangle Women in STEM, including IBM and Duke University.

Triangle Women in STEM’s work will be comprehensive. We have to find ways to get girls interested in pursuing STEM studies. We must mentor young women pursuing STEM degrees in college. We have to expand STEM opportunities for professional women. We need to ensure that women leaders in STEM can shatter glass ceilings in their organizations. The Triangle should be a hub for recruiting, developing and retaining a workforce of women in STEM by allowing them to thrive and grow here.

This initiative is bold, and in its infancy. To help fuel this new initiative, BCBSNC is hosting an event to bring together women STEM leaders to discuss the unique opportunity before us. The keynote speaker at this event, Lisa Ross, has extensive experience with these issues. Before her current role at APCO Worldwide, a woman-founded and woman majority owned global strategic communications firm with a growing office here in the Triangle, Ross served as deputy director of the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission under President Clinton and chief of staff for the Office for Women’s Initiatives and Outreach. She also co-founded and led the Washington Area Women’s Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to ensuring economically vulnerable women and girls in the Washington region have the resources they need to thrive.

Anyone interested in getting involved with Triangle Women in STEM should email TriangleWomeninSTEM@gmail.com. The group is in the process of organizing working groups to drive the initiative forward. We look forward to the day in which when women hold STEM jobs and leadership positions in numbers that are proportionate to our population and our group is no longer relevant. Until then, we organize.