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I’m a 28-year veteran of the global healthcare company Abbott, where I’m responsible for the company’s engineering, regulatory, and quality assurance functions in over 150 countries

I started my career at Abbott in 1989 and have held a number of senior positions, including senior manufacturing engineer, production manager, and engineering manager.

In 2012, I began the Abbott’s high school STEM internship program, targeting underrepresented students. A high school engineering internship changed the trajectory of my life when I was 17, and I am passionate about helping young people, especially girls and minorities, realize their STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) dreams. To date, almost 90 young people have taken part and 97 percent are pursuing a STEM degree or have a STEM job.

This is as personal as it gets.

The fact that only one in seven engineers is a woman. That only one in 50 is an African-American female. The fact that I, as an African-American female engineer am 10 times rarer than a woman in Congress.

As a young woman, my mom and my grandfather encouraged me to study math and science, and today I work at Abbott’s as its top engineer. My granddad only made it formally through eighth grade, but he and my family valued education. My mom went to school herself whilst raising five kids.

That’s what made the difference when an opportunity of a lifetime came my way. I was 17, working for $1.76-an-hour at Jack in the Box to cover expenses for extra-curricular programs at school, when IBM came to my inner-city Dallas school, looking for a student who could intern there for the summer.

The support of a few key teachers, a guidance counselor, and my family made the decision to work for IBM that summer a reality. What followed was another internship and eventually a degree – and a career. That internship changed the direction of my life.

This coming weekend, I’m sharing this story and taking this issue head on with thousands of students at the USA Science & Engineering Festival in Washington D.C., along with my colleague, Abbott neuroscientist Beth McQuiston. I know the power of words, and of stories, and hope these girls walk away knowing that no matter their ZIP code, no matter the color of the skin or their gender or their socioeconomic status – they, too, can be an engineer one day.

As much as I am thankful for the opportunity to share this vision, I also know I am just one person. As one of very few African-American female engineers, I have an obligation to do something to help close a real gap of women and minorities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. It’s good for our company and its future, but it’s also just the right thing to do for society and the future of innovation.

A shortage of diverse perspectives means the teams creating the next life-changing technologies in our societies are not as equipped as they otherwise would be. How can we innovate for a diverse world if we don’t have diverse innovators?

The reason STEM recruitment and retention is broken when it comes to attracting and holding on to women and minorities, I think, is they don’t see enough people who look like them in their fields, a signal to them that maybe this field isn’t for them – maybe they weren’t meant to succeed here.

To be sure, the fix to that is not straight forward as it may seem. But one thing parents, schools and companies need to do is invest in these young people early, so they see STEM as a viable career option.

Only 10 percent of girls say their parents encourage them to pursue engineering, for instance. That is way too low.

STEM is not hard and boring – it can be intuitive and exciting. Abbott invests in a high school STEM internship program that reaches students as young as 15, empowering them to work on real business problems and giving them a taste of what it’s really like to work in the field, transforming abstract concepts into tangible career options. Outside of the high school internship, since 2006, Abbott has worked with more than 700 schools and community organizations to inspire more than 285,000 students interested in STEM.

We also need to be quick to speak up for good STEM work and education policy. Like I wrote in The Hill, we need Ph.Ds. and inventors, yes – but we also need people with technical skills to work in labs, build prototypes, write code and fill the many, many other STEM-related jobs of the future.

If you work at another company and you’re still with me, I am here for you. I know it isn’t easy to get something like a high school STEM internship off the ground, but I’ve done it. I am willing to share my blueprints. This is bigger than me, and bigger than Abbott. This is about someday, living in a world where diversity of people, ideas and thoughts are equally balanced in creating life-changing technologies that will further advance innovation, technology – and life as we know it.

Henry Sapiecha

Level of Female Percentage by Country in global chart form

The number of women per country in the world on a % basis shows in this revealing chart..

This chart shows ISCED(International Standard Classification of Education) Level of Female Percentage.

The International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) is a statistical framework for organizing information on education maintained by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Albania 55.4
Antigua and Barbuda 0
Argentina 56.89
Armenia 40.4
Aruba 0
Australia 50.64
Austria 47.0
Azerbaijan 48.24
Bahrain 49.36
Bangladesh 38.2
Belarus 56
Belgium 45.7
Belize 0
Bermuda 0
Brazil 51.85
Brunei Darussalam 34.78
Bulgaria 50.88
Burkina Faso 30.98
Cape Verde 50
Central African Republic 0
Chile 44.2
Colombia 38.36
Comoros 0
Congo 22.1
Cook Islands 88.89
Costa Rica 41.58
civ 27.14
Croatia 52.77
Cuba 50.97
Cyprus 53.52
Czech Republic 42.74
Denmark 48.93
Dominican Republic 0
Ecuador 37.71
Egypt 41.49
El Salvador 46.88
Estonia 58.14
Ethiopia 17.25
Finland 52.0
France 47.0
Georgia 58.46
Germany 40.53
Ghana 24.8
Greece 46.48
Guinea 0
Guyana 0
Honduras 36.67
Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China 41.48
Hungary 48.59
Iceland 62.39
Indonesia 41.43
Iran, Islamic Republic of 38.1
Ireland 49.75
Israel 52.44
Italy 51.92
Japan 32.75
Kazakhstan 58.91
Kiribati 0
Kyrgyzstan 60.71
Lao People’s Democratic Republic 0
Latvia 57.19
Lebanon 40.18
Lesotho 60
Liberia 0
Liechtenstein 29.25
Lithuania 58.1
Luxembourg 44.36
Madagascar 43.11
Malaysia 42.84
Mali 18.85
Malta 42.86
Mauritania 0
Mauritius 39.74
Mexico 46.59
Moldova 57.55
Mongolia 59.55
Mozambique 0
Myanmar 76.1
Netherlands 48.91
New Zealand 51.1
Niger 26.89
Norway 50.29
Occupied Palestinian Territory 0
Pakistan 28.83
Panama 63.24
Poland 52.45
Portugal 53.37
Qatar 60
Republic of Korea 37.98
Russian Federation 45.92
Rwanda 0
Saint Lucia 0
San Marino 0
Sao Tome and Principe 0
Saudi Arabia 34.83
Serbia 57.12
Singapore 39.1
Slovakia 47.3
Slovenia 53.68
South Africa 43.74
Sri Lanka 41.21
Sudan 27.3
Sweden 48.79
Switzerland 44.41
Tajikistan 32.1
Thailand 50.99
The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia 57.33
Togo 11.6
Turkey 42.65
Ukraine 58.94
United Arab Emirates 61.45
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 46.93
United Republic of Tanzania 19.17
United States of America 49.66
Viet Nam 17.9


Henry Sapiecha