To increase the number of women pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, FIU Business has launched the Pink Tank, a mentoring, networking and competition experience designed to reduce the gender gap in STEM fields, which have some of the fastest-growing, highest-paying jobs of the future.
Thanks to a gift of nearly $50,000 from BankUnited, the Pink Tank initiative, part of the ATOM (analytics, technology, operations and management) Think Tank, addresses these issues through education and mentoring. With the help of their mentors, students participate in hands-on learning, receive industry insights and network for career opportunities.
“The launching of the ATOM Pink Tank experience is truly a momentous, exciting occasion,” said Karlene Cousins, chair of the college’s Department of Information Systems and Business Analytics (ISBA), which houses the program. ISBA faculty members Gladys Simpson and Nicole Wishart organized and led the program, teaching data analysis skills and guiding the 12 students selected for the inaugural cohort. Students came from a wide range of academic disciplines, including data analytics, cybersecurity, biomedicine and engineering.
BankUnited’s support, funded through its iCARE™ program, extended beyond financial backing. Led by Executive Vice President Lisa Shim and Senior Vice President Jackie Bravo (MAcc ‘05), a team of 20 BankUnited mentors, dubbed the Pink Cabinet, mentored the students as they worked on a real-world analytics challenge impacting women in the pandemic. The topic: obstacles faced by working women in the COVID-19 pandemic.
On March 29, 2021, Pink Tank students, organized into four teams, presented their findings in a virtual hack-a-thon style competition. Participants were tasked with researching the issue, organizing and explaining the problem in a data-driven presentation, and proposing potential solutions for both individuals and organizations facing these issues.
Using hard data, they documented the pandemic’s impact on women: unemployment, loss of childcare and extended family support, wage loss, disparate impact on women of color, feelings of burnout and depression and increased salary disparity, among others. And then, each team recommended solutions, including IVR (individual virtual childcare), enhanced employee assistance programs, respite care and care subsidies, and even talking/walking business meetings during the day as a way to release tension. They also shared experiences of how they got fellow students to engage in activities that relieved stress during the times of the pandemic.
For Eric Hibbert, BankUnited executive vice president and iCARE™ program leader, the student input struck a chord. “These are all issues we’re struggling with today, and a number of solutions you’re proposing are ones we’re thinking about,” he said.
Judges noted the difficulty of choosing winners among the four teams. They named Team C, Maria Fernandez Orozco, Maria Diaz and Sri Bhavya Deepthi Kallakurt, as first-place winners, and awarded second place to Team A, Karina Hernandez and Sheenailla Green.
“It was a very rewarding experience,” said Maria Diaz of the winning team; Diaz is a graduating senior majoring in finance and business analytics. She noted that the experience of working closely with mentors opened her eyes to gender disparity challenges in STEM fields.
“You realize how many women face the same things we’re going through, and how many challenges we have to overcome as a community,” Diaz said. She plans to continue at FIU Business to earn a doctorate in information systems and hopes to study ethical practices in data collection.
As a result of the Pink Tank, she said, “I feel a greater responsibility to make a difference for women in STEM.”
After the competition ended, opportunities to engage continued. Pink Tank students heard a panel of data scientists talk about their career journeys and offered advice. They also had a “pay-it-forward” opportunity, talking to high school students about the educational path to STEM careers.
“This program came from our desire to create a forum to educate, inspire and support women to reach their fullest potential,” said BankUnited’s Bravo. “Our cabinet members supported these ladies for almost 3 months, meeting weekly, acting as their business coaches and sharing professional wisdom and insight. It was beautiful to see almost 40 women from different stages in life and careers from FIU and BankUnited come together for one common goal.
“The students in the program shined, some even receiving internship positions at BankUnited,” she added. “I’m proud of the impact this program can bring to our community, the ladies of FIU and the future for women in STEM.”
ISBA Chair Cousins attributed the success of the Pink Tank to all who participated with vigor and purpose, including students, faculty and BankUnited mentors: “We thank BankUnited, iCARE™ and the ladies our Pink Cabinet for being so vested in our women at FIU.”