Caitlin Kalinowski Is Leveling the Playing Field in STEM

Leading the way for women and BIPOC in tech

The STEM industry is one of the fastest-growing industries today, and leaders like Caitlin Kalinowski are trying to solve STEM’s diversity problem.

Caitlin Kalinowski headshot

Caitlin Kalinowski

According to the Bureau of Labor, STEM fields are expected to grow 8 percent by 2029, compared to 3.7 percent for all other occupations. However, women only make up about 27 percent of STEM workers, while BIPOC account for roughly 30 percent of STEM employees.

As a senior director of hardware and a leader in tech, Kalinowski said the disparities are a cultural change the industry needs to shift rather than focus on the tech companies themselves. 

"I just don't feel that we have a level playing field yet—like in the whole pipeline," Kalinowski told Lifewire over the phone. "This is a culture thing, not a company thing."

Quick Facts

  • Name: Caitlin Kalinowski
  • From: New Hampshire
  • Random Delight: When I get to use a product that was beautifully thought-out, and the features surprise me. A recent example is Rivian's truck design with an external seat for skiers and snowboarders.
  • Key quote or motto to live by: "Always be learning."

Disparities in STEM

When Kalinowski entered the tech world in the early 2000s, it was a much different place, dominated mostly by men. She said there were no other women in engineering at her first company.

Over time, Kalinowski said, it got better, and more women started to show up on her teams. 

"[At one company] I was on two teams: one of the teams was all-male, and one of the teams was about 50/50 [male and female]," she said. "My experience on the 50/50 team, as you can imagine, was just much better." 

technician guiding a young trainee in a workshop

Hinterhaus Productions / Getty Images

Kalinowski said a big reason why women and BIPOC end up leaving the tech industry within their first two years is they don't see themselves represented in their teams and workplace.

"I don't like looking at it [like] 'how do we get more women and [BIPOC] interested in STEM?' That's not the framing that I like because it kind of puts it on them," she said.

"Maybe it's because of the experiences they had when they talk about liking [STEM], or because their first job wasn't a great experience. And so they're like,' this isn't for me,' when actually, if they'd had a good experience, they'd be really excited about STEM."

Starting Them Young 

Of course, a successful STEM career starts with an interest in the topics, but Kalinowski said not everyone is equally encouraged to pursue these interests. According to a study from the National Science Foundation, women only earn 18 percent of computer science bachelor’s degrees and only 20 percent of engineering degrees in the US. 

Basically, we need to be open to having people from different backgrounds that can do the job.

Kalinowski said a critical way to ensure society doesn't put out the flame young people have for STEM is to be more open and acceptable. 

"The way to develop kids who have special skill sets, or who are going to really show their promise at an early age, it's just to follow them," she said. "When a kid shows an interest, encourage it and encourage them."

Setting up for Success

As someone who has been part of the minority in the STEM industry, Kalinowski brings that experience to her leadership to ensure that members of her teams feel both represented and seen.

"One of the things that you need to do as a leader is understand who needs what [and] when," she said. "If you hire someone who's underrepresented in any way, you kind of need to reach out more to them in the beginning and make sure that they're well established, and they understand why we do what we do and how to be successful, etc."

Caitlin Kalinowski

Caitlin Kalinowski

For Kalinowski, her ultimate goal as a leader and someone who experienced the disparities in tech is to level the playing field. 

"Making sure that we're hiring is a huge piece of it, and I think that's pretty well covered," she said. "I think [...] the Bay Area and Silicon Valley are getting to a pretty good spot with trying to be clear that we want to have the pipeline coming into these roles to be diverse." 

In addition, she said another way to encourage equality is in the STEM jobs themselves. 

"We need to make sure that we're not narrowing the requirements for jobs so much, like too much," she said. "Basically, we need to be open to having people from different backgrounds that can do the job." 

Hopefully, the future of the STEM industry will continue in the right direction, thanks to leaders like Kalinowski helping along the way.

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