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WASHINGTON -- An organization that promotes women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics honored Wal-Mart on Wednesday, giving the Bentonville-based company its Corporate Commitment Award during a national conference.

At the Million Women Mentors Summit in Washington, D.C., officials also highlighted Arkansas' efforts to promote opportunities for girls and young women in the four career fields, collectively known as STEM.

The state's lieutenant governor, Tim Griffin, appeared on a panel and promoted the steps Arkansas is taking to increase the number of women in STEM programs.

Wal-Mart's vice president of technology, Rita Carney, joined a panel that focused on "best practices to advance women in STEM careers through mentoring."

Organizers said women are underrepresented in those career fields. Though they make up roughly half of the workforce, women hold only one-quarter of all STEM jobs.

Jobs in those four fields pay better than many other careers, and the gap between women's pay and men's pay is smaller, they added.

The national program, which was publicly launched in January 2014, has recruited 850,000 mentors thus far. It hopes to top 1 million by the end of this year.

The group has lined up chapters in roughly three dozen states and is backed by dozens of major businesses and organizations.

Besides Wal-Mart, the group's sponsors include a number of other Fortune 500 companies, including General Motors, Johnson & Johnson, Lockheed Martin, Intel and PepsiCo.

The group's website is millionwomenmentors.org.

In an interview, Griffin said Arkansas officials are concerned about science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields "because we want our country to be competitive. ... We want our state to be competitive."

Griffin serves as honorary chairman of Million Women Mentors' Arkansas chapter.

"A lot of the good-paying jobs, I would say most, involve STEM in some way," Griffin said. "Almost everything in life is STEM now."

In order to attract new businesses and be successful, "we've got to have more STEM graduates because we don't have enough," he added.

Because women are so underrepresented, it makes sense to focus on them, he said.

Andrea Roberts, Wal-Mart's senior manager of STEM strategy, said the company has made the mentorship program a priority.

"We understand the importance of furthering STEM education and career opportunities for women," she said.

Technology is crucial at Wal-Mart, she said.

"When you go to the checkout station, there's technology there. That technology has to be supported in the background. If it's not working, then our company doesn't work, so technology, engineering, science, math are all so important to our everyday work," she said.

Roberts, Carney and other Wal-Mart officials are on the Arkansas chapter's steering committee. Thus far, the group has obtained 2,000 mentor pledge commitments statewide. Its goal is to reach 5,000.

Griffin and the Wal-Mart STEM boosters have held meetings in five cities to promote the mentorship program. Officials plan to hold similar meetings in El Dorado and Texarkana later this year.

Sheila Boyington, national states chairman of Million Women Mentors, said Wal-Mart "has stepped out to take a leadership role" in Arkansas and nationwide.

"Getting more girls and women in STEM is extremely important. It's an economic equation, not only for the state of Arkansas but really for the country and the world," she added.

Metro on 10/06/2016

Print Headline: Wal-Mart lauded for backing women in STEM fields

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