ABINGDON, Va. - Despite all of the talk of equality for women in the workplace, some occupations continue to be male-dominated.
That could change in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Of course it all begins with education. A conference dedicated to nothing but sixth-grade girls in the scientific and technical fields concentrated on just that.
The grand hall of the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center is filled with sixth graders from the region, all girls. They listen intently to keynote speaker Cristina Millan from Ohio State and a research geologist.
She's made three trips to Antarctica for her studies.
A friend of hers who speaks to similar conferences made an unusual discovery. She asked the students to draw a picture of a scientist. The pictures were all older males with glasses. "A lot of people drew the same thing and that's when we realized that there is a problem. If that is the impression that young males and females have of what a scientist is we've got a lot of work to do," Cristina Millan told us.
That work begins with the female students themselves in workshops throughout the building, all being hosted by women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. "They're all very capable of doing this and I think that they've been told maybe they should choose another field to go into. So we're just sort of on the cutting edge I hope where girls are going to start choosing technology fields to go into," E.B. Stanley Middle School counselor Jean Haley said.
And the girls even at their age understand the problems. "Most boys, boys sometimes get only get the jobs and some girls don't," says sixth-grader Erica Parson.
So what about the idea of being away from the boys and studying in workshops with all girls? "It's all girls, no distractions. Boys, they can be a little distracting, a lot distracting," Cynthia Ownes says.
"It gives the girls a chance to bond and have fun together, make friends and all that good stuff," Rachel Reynolds adds.
And after a day of learning that science and discovery can be fun and exciting the conference made its point. "There is nothing you can't do. Even though people say there's things you can't do, don't list to them. You can do it, you decide to listen to yourself not other people," Cynthia Ownes said.
So the next group of pictures of scientists may look a lot like these students.