How Pi Day became synonymous with women's empowerment through STEM
By Amanda Schmidt, AccuWeather staff writer
March 14, 2019, 4:20:38 PM EDT
This Pi Day, March 14, female STEM professionals around the United States once again wore purple to bring awareness to the need for more women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers. This year marks the fourth annual #DressForSTEM event.
While women make up nearly half the workforce in the U.S., they hold only 24 percent of jobs in STEM, according to a government report published in 2017.
The #DressForSTEM initiative began in 2016 when female weather broadcasters around the country joined forces and decided to wear an infamous dress on the same day as a way to encourage the involvement of women and young girls in STEM.
The initiative resulted from an online collaboration among female meteorologists in a Facebook group with about 700 members. It all began with a viral dress and continued to grow due to their desire to inspire girls to pursue higher education in STEM.
Julia Weiden, a freelance meteorologist for AccuWeather, has been leading the charge in the movement over the last few years, but she says she would not be successful without the collaboration of all those involved.
In 2014, one of the members raved in a post about a relatively inexpensive dress that they bought on Amazon. The positive review prompted one after another member to purchase the dress.
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“This dress ended up taking off like wildfire, and it became this kind of viral joke,” Weiden said. “Someone posted about it on Reddit. They posted a collage of all of us wearing this dress.”
The dress became a viral sensation, as viewers noticed that female meteorologists from across the country all have this same dress.
Weiden said that after the dress went viral, she pitched to the group that they all plan to wear the dress on the same day to raise awareness for a cause.
“We all kind of agreed that showing support for the need for more women in STEM would be the way to go because that was something that we had in common,” Weiden said.
They chose to wear “The Dress” on Pi Day because it is a science-related day. The group first wore "The Dress" in 2016 and wore it again in 2017.
However, the group has since moved away from “The Dress” and began wearing the color purple in 2018.
“We realized that by wearing that particular dress that it was very exclusive to just female broadcast meteorologists, when we were talking about wanting more women in STEM,” Weiden said.
They hoped to expand the movement to other STEM professionals, as well as making it more accessible to men, minorities and anyone who wants to participate.
“The whole idea of this is inclusivity and showing being a women in STEM that you don’t have to look a certain way or be in a certain field. You don’t have to be in a lab coat and goggles to be a women in STEM. We all look different from each other,” Weiden said.
This #PiDay (March 14th)— Lissette Gonzalez (@LissetteCBS4) March 14, 2019
I’m wearing purple 💜to support women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) careers AND to help inspire young girls and motivate ALL kids to get excited about pursuing a career in #STEM fields. #DressforSTEM @CBSMiami #WomeninStem pic.twitter.com/nwOWqkWZqw
Young girls interested in STEM can be very susceptible to the stereotype that women scientists are quirky and nerdy. This stereotype may negatively impact a young girl’s interest in any STEM-related field.
“We want to show young girls that there are a variety of different women who are in STEM fields and who are successful,” Weiden said.
The movement aims to raise awareness to the small percentage of women in STEM, as well as encourage young girls to pursue a career in STEM if they’re interested.
Women in STEM are often the minority in their professions, as well as in college courses, a reality that can be discouraging.
Weiden said that in her Atmospheric Science program at Cornell University, she was one of four women that graduated out of a class of about 25 students.
"It did feel discouraging at times because the science is difficult, and when you don’t have people that you can necessarily relate to in your class, that makes it harder," Weiden said. "Thankfully, we were a pretty tight-knit group and we got through it together."
When Weiden entered the workforce, she was the first meteorologist on air not just at her station but in her market. She said it was really difficult in the beginning to learn how to master her craft because she felt like she didn’t have anyone to look up to.
"I had to seek out my own role models. I would search for female meteorologists online that I felt that I could relate to and who I could emulate. That’s largely how I learned how to be on camera -- by watching other women who had paved the way before me and that was really helpful," Weiden said.
And it's no surprise why there was a dearth of role models for Weiden. According to a study published in 2017 by Alexandra Cranford, a TV meteorologist for WWL in New Orleans, 29 percent of broadcast meteorologist positions were filled by women and only eight percent of chief meteorologist positions were held by women.
"Thankfully, as I moved on in my career, I was surrounded by more women," Weiden said. "It is just really encouraging because I think women in this field tend to look out for each other."
AccuWeather female meteorologists also reflect on their experience as woman in STEM, as well as the importance of women in STEM.
Brittany Boyer, an AccuWeather broadcast meteorologist, remembers growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs where most of the meteorologists on TV were men. She said it was exciting when local TV stations started to hire women for the job.
"Any gender can be a role model for someone, but it was refreshing to see women in the field that I was interested in," Boyer said.
Boyer remembers what it was like having a female meteorologist to look up to when she was young.
"I hope I can also be an example for young kids, and especially young girls to get into a STEM field," Boyer said.
A career path in STEM is not an easy one, but it is a rewarding one if it is where your passion lies, AccuWeather Meteorologist Renee Duff said.
"Just because females are outnumbered by males in STEM-related fields doesn't make our contributions, ideas and innovations any less important or impactful. To younger woman looking into STEM, don't let the numbers scare you away from pursuing what you're interested in," Duff said.
Everybody brings a unique and valuable perspective to whatever work they do, and the more women's voices we can get into the world of meteorology, the better, AccuWeather Meteorologist Faith Eherts said.
"Men and women think differently, so having more women present in these fields provides a different perspective than what's already there," AccuWeather Meteorologist Courtney Spamer said. "Who knows? These new perspectives could lead to a new solution to a problem or a breakthrough."
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