I was honored to be among the first to cross the new eastern span of the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge last Sept. 2. It took 24 years and billions of dollars to complete but the extra care and scrutiny that it garnered produced a more beautiful and safer structure than the original bridge.
When the original bridge was built in 1936, of the more than 8,000 workers who helped build the structure, there were zero women.
Today, counting all the contractors working on federally funded construction projects in the state -- including the Bay Bridge -- women in the workforce made up only 2 percent.
By mandate, the federal government has opened the doors, but the fact of the matter is, few women choose to work in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) even though they make up over 50 percent of our population. Construction or engineering, traditionally male bastions, have not attracted more women even though technological advancements have made brute strength unnecessary for many of the tasks.
Some women have broken through -- such as those engineers and construction workers who worked on the new Bay Bridge and the highways leading up to it -- but they are still the exceptions, not the rule.
We are fortunate in Contra Costa to have one of only four women directors of public works in the state. Public Works director Julie Bueren, who is a civil engineer, has been recognized by her peers for her leadership and advocacy for women in her field.
One of my interns this summer was a young woman from John Swett High School. She was the second of two young women who spent some of their internship in the Public Works Department where Bueren introduced them to the jobs and duties of that department. More importantly, they were introduced to women engineers, role models who encouraged them to continue in their studies.
Opening the doors so that young women can succeed in untraditional occupations is just one of the tasks of the Contra Costa Commission for Women, whose mission is, "to improve the economic status, social welfare, and overall quality of life for women in Contra Costa County." The American Association of University Women point out that there are plenty of role models for our young women. Among them are the top 10 women scientists we should all know:
Emilie du Chatelet (1706 — 1749) wrote an essay about the nature of fire with Voltaire
Caroline Herschel (1750 — 1848) first woman to discover a comet
Mary Somerville (1780 — 1872) produced a series of writings on astronomy, chemistry, physics and mathematics.
Mary Anning (1799 — 1847) taught herself anatomy, geology, paleontology and scientific illustration. She became a famous fossil hunter.
Maria Mitchell (1818 — 1889) first woman to be elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. First female astronomy professor in the United States.
Lise Meitner (1878 — 1968) she calculated the energy released in the reaction and named the phenomenon "nuclear fission".
Irène Curie-Joliot (1897 — 1956) Irène and her mother Marie became the first parent-child couple to have independently won the Nobel Prize.
Barbara McClintock (1902 — 1992) pioneered the study of genetics of maize (corn) cells. Was awarded a Lasker Prize in 1981 and Nobel Prize in 1983.
Dorothy Hodgkin (1910 — 1994) she was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1964, determined the structures of penicillin, vitamin B12 and insulin. Only woman to be celebrated by the British Royal Mail's 350th anniversary along with Newton and Franklin.
Rosalind Franklin (1920 — 1958) Dr. Franklin made X-ray images of DNA that later resulted in Watson's discovery of the double helix.
To get more young women into occupations traditionally dominated by men, we need to knock down the societal and institutional barriers that overtly and subtly dissuade them from considering these fields and thus preventing them from reaching their full potential. Not only do they have to contend with employers who think they are not smart enough or strong enough, teachers and counselors who steer them away from STEM subjects, they also have family members who prefer their daughters pursue more "feminine" occupations.
The late Sally Ride, an astrophysicist and America's first woman in space, said her role model was tennis player Billie Jean King."I was always very interested in science, and I knew that for me, science was a better long-term career than tennis," she said.
Ride founded Sally Ride Science to encourage young girls to explore their career options in science, math and technology. "Our future lies with today's kids and tomorrow's space exploration," Ride said.
Federal Glover represents District V on the County Board of Supervisors.