Granddaughter Arianna interviewed her Grandmother and leading Engineer, Corlis Murray on what she does as they tour Abbott's headquarters in Chicago.
As senior vice president of quality, regulatory and engineering services at Abbott, Corlis Murray oversees engineering and a $400 million budget at a company with 99,000 employees in more than 150 countries. And she is one of the only African American women who is a top engineer at a Fortune 500 company (if not the only one).
Murray is serious about recruiting more women and minorities into science and engineering, and she wants STEM-related companies to do more than they are doing.
In this post, she writes about her journey to the top position she has at Abbott and what other companies can do to diversify.
Account Given By Corlis Murray:
When I was 17, I dressed up each day for work in a yellow and orange shirt to assemble tacos, burgers and fries at Jack in the Box. I made $1.76 an hour.
My boss thought I had a bright future ahead of me there, and even told me I was an ideal candidate for the company’s manager track program.
Around the same time, IBM came to my inner-city Dallas school asking to take on a summer high school engineering intern. My guidance counselor and math and science teachers recommended me.
I didn’t know of any engineers in my family — or among my friends. In fact, I didn’t even know what an engineer did. But I quit my fast-food job for the internship opportunity. My mother, who had no idea what engineering was, supported my decision.
Today, I’m one of the only African American women I know of who is a top engineer at a Fortune 500 company. I oversee engineering and a $400 million budget at a company with 99,000 employees in more than 150 countries.
Still, the lack of representation of women and minorities in STEM is stubbornly persistent. With the world's population made up of half men and half women, just 15 to 25 percent of people working in STEM are women, and only 1 in 7 engineers is a woman. And just 1 in 50 is an African American woman.
The issue is not a lack of interest or desire. The problem is that many young women and minorities with an aptitude for math and science never explore related fields and never convert to working in them, because they are not exposed or encouraged in a way that helps them see what could be possible.
That is tragic. It’s also mendable.
I keep this issue close to heart in every decision I make. Seven years ago, I founded a high school STEM internship program at Abbott, where 60 percent of our interns are women and 50 percent are minorities — we source interns from diverse schools near areas where we operate. At ages as young as 15, the interns are working on high-visibility projects, such as Freestyle Libre, a device that eliminates the need for painful, routine fingerpricks for people with diabetes.
Of these interns, 97 percent go on to major in a STEM field in college, addressing the very real issue that minorities and women tend not to choose these sorts of degrees.
But the fix is bigger than my company or me. It’s bigger than a hashtag, a summer camp or a STEM day.
We need people in powerful positions — educators, policymakers, scientists — to join together to reach girls and minorities early, painting a picture for them of what the future could look like. These are our not-so-distant-future inventors who will create the next life-changing technologies that will be on the shelves, in doctors’ hands and inside human bodies, redefining what’s possible.
But it takes a village — of parents, teachers and companies — to help girls and minorities realize their potential.