If we want to build leadership teams that include women we must start with a focus on girls in STEM. Creating programs that invest in the education and interest of girls in careers that have been traditionally held by men not only provides a pipeline of future women leaders; it also helps to encourage young girls to have a stronger view of life.
The Girls Scouts of America, a premier worldwide organization focused on girls starting at kindergarten, has traditional sought ways to encourage and support girls in reaching for their goals without gender bias. In February they published survey results in their report The Vote is In – Pulse Poll:
The Girl Scout Research Institute launched a national survey* to understand how American voters view and prioritize girls’ education and healthy development. Results show that voters care deeply about issues pertaining to girls in the U.S. and support building girls’ financial literacy, STEM, and business skills; and fostering healthy relationships and confidence among girls. American voters wish to see these issues moved to the forefront of the national agenda in order for this country to optimally develop the next generation of leaders.
This year the Girls Scouts were well represented at the International Consumer Electronics Show, demonstrating an interactive tool they’ve developed to engage girls in the excitement of STEM careers. Starting from a young age, their creating interest in girls about the possibility of a career in STEM however somewhere between their elementary years and when they select a college major, more girls are switching to less traditionally male careers for a degree in one of the softer industries. From the GSA press release we learn:
73% of girls are interested in STEM-related fields. But without keeping them engaged and showing them future opportunities, girls are more likely to “drop out” for other careers when they get to college. In addition, the study shows about half of all girls feel that STEM isn’t a typical career path for girls, and 57% of girls say that if they went into a STEM career, they’d have to work harder than a man just to be taken seriously.
So where is the ball being dropped?
Girls in STEM – Major in Problem Solving
US News published an article, How to Encourage Women to Consider STEM Majors, where they ask nine questions to uncover why we aren’t seeing more women majoring in a STEM degree or seeking a career in a STEM-related industry. A common theme is that girls in STEM aren’t seeing the correlation between their childhood enjoyment of science and technology and how they might use that in the “real world.” There is a marketing missing link. Not only that, there is still a stigma that associates a “nerd” or “geek” label on all things STEM that tends to not be appealing to young women.
Katy Hopkins, the author of the US News article, helps clear up the issue by offering a simple solution:
I think of a STEM degree as a degree in problem solving. If you think of life as something where you’re always going to be solving problems, then you’re pretty well equipped to succeed in life when you have a STEM degree. Something as simple as that can actually help to encourage people to go into those fields.
Who doesn’t want to be known as a problem solver? The go-to person when there is an issue could be a girl in STEM who pursued a career in science or technology.
This week President Obama attended his last White House Science Fair as our nation’s leader. President Obama says it all in this quote:
“As a society, we have to celebrate outstanding work by young people in science at least as much as we do Super Bowl winners. Because superstar biologists and engineers and rocket scientists and robot-builders… they’re what’s going to transform our society. They’re the folks who are going to come up with cures for diseases and new sources of energy, and help us build healthier, more successful societies.” –President Obama
They are going to be the Ultimate Problem Solvers!
How can we help girls in STEM mature into women in STEM careers?
It starts with the parents. Katy Hopkins offers this advice:
I encourage them to encourage their children to consider science and math. It’s quite often hard for these parents to do that because they themselves think, ‘Well, I’m not a scientist or engineer. How can I encourage my child to do that if I’m not a scientist or engineer?’ You don’t have to be, as a parent. All you have to do is give your child the encouragement to at least try it.
Create opportunities to encourage your children to follow their interests and curiosities to discover new and different ways to solve problems. Encourage them to read about other women in STEM who have made a difference in their companies. Find ways to connect your children with role models who have already paved the way and become a success in their field.
The need is there. We just have to find a way to keep those girls in STEM interested in following through with a degree and career in STEM. The job opportunities are only going to increase, especially as technology becomes the way of our life.
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JJ DiGeronimo — the president of Tech Savvy Women — is a speaker, author, and thought leader for women in tech and girls and STEM. Through her work, JJ empowers professional women and consults with senior executives on strategies to retain and attract women in technology to increase thought and leadership diversity within organizations.
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