Throughout the years, I’ve enjoyed helping many organizations, both locally and globally. Part of my purpose is helping and mentoring others – and the Kern County Women in STEM group has been a wonderful way for me to participate in meaningful outreach.
There are many women who feel as I do – that supporting women of all ages in STEM is an important initiative. For this blog, I asked Melissa Morse, Vice President of Reserves at California Resources Corporation, about why she’s dedicated to empowering more women in science and tech and what she sees for the future.
Tell us a little bit about what you do.
I’m the Vice President of Reserves at California Resources Corporation (CRC), a California based energy company. My background is in geology and finance. I am an advocate for women in STEM and for STEM education for everyone.
Kern County Women in STEM is a group of about a dozen professional women who all work in STEM related fields in Kern County. We are scientists, IT professionals, engineers, financial advisors, and entrepreneurs. We formed the group in 2018 with the objective of providing mutual support to each other, as well as to do STEM outreach and mentoring in the community. Since the group formed, we have partnered with Kern Economic Development Foundation to participate in the Buttonwillow Girls mentoring program, as well as with the Project Management Institute Central Valley chapter to bring a Professional Development Day to Bakersfield. Our members work in various companies and organizations around the County and are active with various community groups and non-profits including Rotary and Morning Star Fresh Food Ministry.
Why is encouraging women in STEM careers so important?
Women’s issues are rarely only about women. They impact families and the economy. Half of all households in the US are headed by women, meaning women are the primary breadwinners. STEM careers are among the fastest growing fields. Healthcare, finance, energy, technology are all areas that are growing rapidly in Kern County. So, there is some pull to these fields in terms of demand, and with that comes high starting salaries. Getting more women into these jobs would lift a lot of families financially and help address staffing shortages in many industries.
Currently, many women working in STEM fields are the only professional women in their organization or work group. So, while they may have great colleagues, there may be no one else on the team who looks like them. They very likely have never had female bosses or mentors. Some people do just fine with that, but it can be isolating. When that is the case, we need to look a little farther afield to find our support network. That is where groups like KC Women in STEM are valuable. Even though we work in different fields and organizations, it’s clear from our conversations that a lot of our experiences are similar. Having other professional women to relate to can make the difference between someone leaving their STEM career or staying and growing in their career.
There are so many interesting problems to be solved and so many things to innovate on now and looking into the future, we can’t afford not to encourage women in STEM careers, and not to encourage more young women and girls to pursue STEM education. Particularly when the data is starting to show that companies with more diverse workforces perform better financially than less diverse companies. The world needs all the good ideas and all the smart people working on them that we can get, as well as more STEM literacy among the population in general.
Have you noticed any changing trends regarding women in STEM fields? Has any of this been because of the changes we’ve seen in employment and education due to COVID?
We will be discussing this question for years to come. One trend that I’ve been watching throughout my career, and it is backed up by several studies, is the high attrition rates of women in STEM careers which are much higher than for women working in non-STEM fields. I witnessed in my early career, from college, to graduate school, to my first jobs, that with each stage I had fewer and fewer female peers. Beyond my early career, I had few if any female peers at all in most roles I held, until I started supervising the next generation. Researchers studying this problem attribute the higher attrition rates to various causes. These include STEM fields being less family-friendly, and to fewer opportunities for advancement for women in STEM jobs due to outdated attitudes towards women’s abilities in STEM driven by either conscious or unconscious bias.
It may be too early to tell if COVID amplified this trend, especially when we overlay the massive job cuts that took place in many industries in the middle of the pandemic. However, I am hopeful the trend of many companies adopting hybrid and flexible work arrangements going forward will help more working women, particularly those who also juggle caregiving responsibilities, stay in the STEM world for the long term.
How can we encourage more young women to follow the STEM path?
Members of KC Women in STEM work with several programs around Kern County supporting STEM education. These programs create the spark that can set people down the STEM path. You don’t have to be a member of KC Women in STEM or even work in a STEM field to volunteer to help at STEM events – typically everyone who is willing to help is welcome.
- Kern Economic Development Foundation hosts the annual STEMposium which is a fun and educational event where local companies highlight their technology and STEM careers. The Kern County Science Foundation is always looking for judges or volunteers for the County Science Fair.
- The Kern County Libraries host STEM programs for kids including their very popular Lego building events, and the Boys and Girls Clubs provide STEM activities for kids. These events are for students of all genders, but it’s great for girls to meet women at events who work in STEM fields or just have an interest in STEM.
- The GEMS camp at CALM is a STEM program specifically for girls, which is great, because girls often become self-conscious about their interest in STEM around fourth or fifth grade and benefit from having something just for them.
- Programs that work with the high schools include the Kern Energy and Ag Academy.
What do you hope KC Women in STEM will bring to the community?
For the KC Women in STEM, our careers have been and will continue to be a challenging road, but STEM has been good to us, and Kern County has been good to us in our individual careers. As a group, we’d like to pay that forward. Like many groups, we are having to reimagine what we can achieve given COVID restrictions. For example, we’ve had to put our in-person mentoring on hold. But some members have been able to host interns in their virtual workplaces this year. We are also in the process of updating our long-term vision. We started as an ad hoc group, but we have seen the impact we can have when we work together, and in partnership with other community groups. We are also inspired by what others are doing here in Kern County. New companies such as Bitwise and other STEM driven economic development that has come to the county since in recent years make it feel like there is some momentum building and we want to help keep it going.
Does CRC do anything to specifically encourage women in STEM?
CRC is celebrating the 5-year anniversary of our employee resource group for women called the Women’s Interest Network (CRC WIN). The primary mission is to support the advancement of women in the company. It is an employee driven effort that provides leadership opportunities for members and has a lot of support from leadership. CRC WIN is open to all employees and membership is high across all genders. WIN puts on an annual conference with external speakers and panel discussions with thought leaders from around the company. We also do training, a book club, and networking events that support causes such as Dress for Success.
CRC participates in the STEMposium, we present our Magic Barrel program – which educates the public about oil and natural gas - at community events, and we’ve partnered with the Boys and Girls Clubs in Kern County to put on a geology and engineering club for kids with volunteers from the company.
How can others in your community get involved in KC Women in STEM?
Being a small group has allowed us to get to know each other, support our members, and expand our skills. We were built on the Lean-In Circle model. In the future, if there is interest, we may be able to form some additional small groups of Women in STEM who can support each other like we do, with the idea that the groups could come together for bigger projects and events.
Stay tuned. We will be sharing our updated vision soon. We hope to host some in-person networking events and resume our mentoring activities as soon as it’s safe to do so. This blog is a good place to get updates on our activities and you can also find us on LinkedIn.
Melissa Morse is a geologist, energy executive, advocate for women in STEM, STEM education, and a lifelong student of leadership. With over 25 years’ technical and leadership experience in the Energy space, Melissa is privileged to have worked all stages of petroleum exploration and development from appraisal of new discoveries to enhanced recovery methods in mature fields. She has had profit and loss accountability for geologically and operationally complex assets. She leads her multidisciplinary teams from field specialists to technical staff with empowerment and transparency. Today Melissa is Vice President of Reserves at California Resources Corporation (CRC), a California-based energy company focused on low carbon-intensity oil and natural gas production along with carbon capture and storage. In this role, Melissa and her team steward the estimates of recoverable oil and gas reserves that are the foundation of the company’s value. Melissa holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Geology from the UC Santa Barbara Department of Earth Sciences, which recognized her with a Distinguished Alumni Award in 2016 for her career achievements and guest lectures in Petroleum Geology. She also holds a finance-focused MBA from Pepperdine University. She enjoys spending time with her family in the outdoors.
Debbie Charpentier has been serving clients since 1989 by using a holistic, comprehensive approach that helps clients create the life they value and the legacy they envision. Charpentier Wealth Strategies is a Bakersfield, CA Financial Planning practice that offers fee-based financial planning services. To contact Debbie, email Debbie.Charpentier@LFG.com. http://charpentierwealth.com/ Debbie Charpentier is a registered representative offering securities and investment advisory services through Lincoln Financial Advisors Corp., (Member SIPC). Charpentier Wealth Strategies is a marketing name for registered representatives of Lincoln Financial Advisors. CRN-3865163-101221