Study after study shows the myriad ways girls are systematically discouraged from pursuing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects.
Teachers, parents and peers, often unconsciously or subtly (sometimes not so subtly) persuade girls that STEM pursuits are unsuited to them, and that they’ll fail if they try. So they don’t. So what can we do to fix it?
Fixing business takes fixing the culture
It’s actually more of a culture problem than a business problem—but of course, the one feeds the other. In an economy where tech jobs lead, women whose STEM passions were flattened in grade school must settle for careers in fields that may offer less opportunity, and less pay.
Worse, the rest of us never get to enjoy the fruits of what those women might have created, had their potential been nurtured rather than stunted.
Refactoring a culture is an agonizingly slow process. But the work has begun. Organizations such as Girls Who Code spread the message that programming is for everybody. The National Girls Collaborative Project aims to ensure that all girls have access to resources for pursuing their STEM passions.
We’re also happy to see local organizations with the same eagerness we have to make sure young women have the opportunity to realize their pursuits in STEM fields.
Million Women Mentors (MWM) is working to line up one million STEM coaches to “increase the interest and confidence of girls and women to persist and succeed in STEM programs and careers,” according to MWM, and The State of Florida has pledged to contribute 5,000 mentors over the next four years as part of the program. To achieve these mentor-mentee relationships, Hillsborough County Public Schools has partnered with the Museum of Science and Industry to provide female students access to successful STEM role models.
A powerhouse in the Tampa tech scene, Tampa Bay Technology Forum is getting involved too. They recently held a Professional Women’s Network panel to discuss fostering a love of STEM in young women and how to “rebrand tech” in the hopes of reigniting their STEM interests.
Saving the world starts with STEM at home
But since this is a culture problem first and a business problem second, what we do at home really matters more. That’s where I safeguard and nurture any sign of STEM interest in my nine-year-old daughter who, like my 16-year-old son, shows a strong aptitude for math and engineering. (DNA is amazing stuff.)
My wife and I are making sure we encourage those gifts by giving her all the support she wants, and by carefully avoiding the gender-norm trap of subconsciously taking such aspirations more seriously in her brother than in her.
I think about the ways my parents helped feed my early passion for technology and math by making sure I had access to instructional books and magazines and computers as soon as I was ready for them. I do the same for my children. Both of them.
As every parent knows, encouragement is a tightrope walk over a wicked canyon. My wife and I must make sure we are supporting and encouraging our daughter’s interests while also taking care not to push so hard that we accidentally press the Preteen Rebellion Button and boomerang her in the opposite direction.
Right now she’s pretty STEM-focused, and I’m giving her all the help she wants, plus a tiny bit more I hope she won’t really notice. But if she wakes up next week with a sudden passion for haiku or macroeconomics, that’s what her mother and I will be encouraging next week. As a parental organization, we are all about customer service.
Our daughters are everybody’s future
I always remember the quote attributed to Albert Einstein “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” Reading triggers the imagination. It’s also the best gift you can give a child, teaching them where to find information allows them to feed their own curiosity. This starts at the earliest of ages.
Now she is 9 years old and while she loves to read, there are other STEM-focused activities she is engaged in. One that has helped is Tinker Crate, a subscription service that ships our daughter a box each month containing materials and instructions for a fun STEM-based project.
Each month we get a different project. One month it was building a biomechanical hand, the next was building a hand crank flashlight that works via the electricity generated. These projects come with all the materials needed for construction, along with blueprints and a magazine. She looks forward each month to the next delivery.
Recently she received a drip irrigation system we built together.
Non-school educational activities like these feed her science curiosity, and spark new conversations about the real-world and how things around us work. They also serve up great dad-daughter bonding time as a bonus for me.
The world can’t hope to address the Big Challenges of our time without utilizing everyone’s talents to the fullest. Somewhere out there, a young woman may already have the idea that will give us limitless clean power.
Do you enjoy the thought that perhaps her idea will never be developed because she can’t break into the technology field? Me neither.
And perhaps one day, the efforts my wife and I are making at home will converge with those we make at work, and our daughter will engineer her miracles right here at KineticFuse. That would be so cool. But don’t tell her I said that.