Purcell also emphasized that the human connection is vital, not just for an easier ability to respond to personal questions, but also because one of the best ways to thrive in a career is to exude confidence—confidence that can only occur through knowing what to expect and support from others.

“One of the hurdles…is maintaining confidence in good times and bad,” she noted. “Maintaining your confidence at all levels throughout your career is important.”

Purcell explained that confidence in a career is especially relevant in relation to women in STEM fields, as showing a lack of confidence helps others buy into the notion that women do not belong in the STEM fields.

“Without confidence, we find ourselves doubting that we can realistically make it in our fields. This can lead to us leaving the fields, which is a pressing concern that plagues women in STEM careers.”

In 2005, the Society of Women Engineers conducted a retention survey of over 6,000 engineering graduates. The survey indicated that one in four women were either unemployed or employed in other fields compared to one in 10 men.

“Just as attracting talented women to STEM fields is a real challenge, so is retaining them,” Purcell stated. “Society continues to view women as the primary caregiver in the home and with children. Allowing women to see the opportunity of following their career dreams and also having a family is imperative. Mentors and role models guiding these young women in balancing all of their life goals is a benefit to society as a whole. ”

Purcell argued that without more women in STEM careers and without mentors, many girls interested in STEM will continue to have problems envisioning certain positions as viable possibilities, even if they have some intrinsic interest in the subject matter.

“If girls cannot visualize themselves in STEM careers, because they have never seen women in those positions, they will be much less likely to ever use their innate aptitudes and abilities in a math or science-oriented specialty. That will truly be a loss of gigantic proportion, for our women, our profession and our country.”

(Next page: What to do outside of mentorship)