Leading the way for ambitious women in CTE

Career and technical education (CTE) professionals recently screened Pioneers in Skirts, an award-winning impact film, as part of ACTE’s inclusion, access, equity and diversity (IAED) webinar series. In the film, director Ashley Maria sets a course to achieve something greater, more equitable for women maneuvering a work world built for men.

A movie about ambition: Pioneers in Skirts

The webinar, which took place on July 21, presented an opportunity for CTE educators to meet and discuss the topic with Ashley Maria and producer Lea-Ann Woodward Berst. Snehal Bhakta, CTE administrator in Clark County School District, moderated.

Women in career pathways as diverse as filmmaking, robotics and academia face barriers to ambition. In the work world, early career women make up nearly half of the workforce. But as the corporate ladder climbs higher, women’s representation drops dramatically.

“After four years of following pioneering women and gathering the fact, I am excited for the impact this film will have,” said Ashley Maria. “Not just for women or the film industry, but for cultures wanting to play a role in changing the outcome for women today and the next generation.

“My hope is to help create a world where ambitious women and girls can pursue their careers without having to combat bias in their lives — and where companies will achieve diverse and inclusive work cultures.”

How do we identify the challenges robbing women of their ambition? And how do we solve those challenges?

First, “I think it’s important to understand that there is bias in the culture.” said Lucy Sanders, CEO of National Center for Women & Information Technology. “It’s not you. And it’s not just in the corporate space or in the startup space. It’s in classrooms. It’s in any organizational structure where one group is significantly underrepresented.”

Recognize bias in yourself and others.

Discussions of bias are “not about attacking [anyone],” said Asha Dahya, author, filmmaker, TEDx speaker and founder of GirlTalkHQ. “It’s just about being aware that is exists.”

With ACTE in July, Ashley Maria shared an example of unconscious bias in the classroom. “The chair example,” she said, “It’s a good one to show how biases come out of our mouths without even realizing it.” At the end of an activity, a teacher might say, “Boys, put up the chairs.”

The webinar participants grew silent. Many had never considered the implications in that simple request. ACTE’s IAED initiatives call on CTE professionals to reflect. Look inward to discover what small changes you can make to enrich the learning experience for all students.


Project Implicit offers several Implicit Association Tests that help educate the public on unconscious bias. Additionally, ACTE maintains a library of IAED resources available for career and technical educators.

Allies must lend their support and their voices.

Filmmakers Ashley Maria and Lea-Ann Woodward Berst recommended that young, ambitious women need sponsors in the workplace. After all, it’s about who you know. You! We know you, and we need you. We need leaders in CTE to create opportunities for women to rise and be heard. But we must also hear your voices in the chorus.

In the webinar, Snehal Bhakta reflected on his own role in empowering young women toward high-wage, high-demand careers in STEM. “We need to provide opportunities to young women. But it’s also on me to continue being an ally. And to be vocal.

“I wasn’t always as vocal as I should have been. Now, being part of ACTE’s IAED Advisory Group, I want to be more vocal. Because I want to be more vocal. Because I want other men — other men of color, other people of color — to understand that we can solve some these issues by working together.”

Career and technical educators work with dedication to prepare the workforce. And our classrooms are filled with diverse young people ready to take on the world’s challenges. Create the space and call them out loud. They are pioneers!

Learn more about Pioneers in Skirts; view the recorded webinar.

And watch the film.