How Do We Solve the STEM Gender Gap?

 

stem_gap.jpgIn an effort to find some inspiration, I found this story about a Massachusetts mom who shared her frustrations about signing up her daughter for summer camp in a Boston Globe article.

 

Kim Fahey Picture 2014
Kim Fahey, Vice President, Global Client Solutions

I have a 3-year-old daughter. She’s happy, fun and playful. Each day, she insists upon dumping out every block in the house during play time and at night she carries 37 stuffed animals and dolls with her to bed. During our recent drive to school, she asked “How are they building that house?” Overall, I think she’s demonstrating a broad array of interests. As a parent, I want to foster her interests to offer her lots of options. And I know I am not alone.

In an effort to find some inspiration, I found this story about a Massachusetts mom who shared her frustrations about signing up her daughter for summer camp in a Boston Globe article.

Shereen Shermak, chief executive of Launch Angels, a Boston-based equity firm, had enrolled her daughter in a computer programming camp, but later learned her daughter was the lone female student – with no women teachers, either.

Shermak tied the underrepresentation of girls in her daughter’s summer camp to the overall lack of women in STEM fields.

“The most bothersome [issue],” wrote Shermak, “is that this camp will, in theory, be shaping who will potentially be going to engineering school 10 years from now, and who our young programmers will be 20 years from now. Can we just get some girls to camp for a week to build up their confidence in programming and see if they are interested in doing more?”

New Trend Underway: Getting Girls to Code
The good news is that major initiatives are currently underway to change the momentum. Google, NASA, Verizon -- even the White House – have launched campaigns or programs aimed at getting young girls interested in all things STEM.

Check out this Verizon commercial, part of a new #inspirehermind campaign, which encourages more girls to get involved in high-tech STEM fields.

 

This past summer, Google unveiled Made With Code, a program aimed at not only teaching girls to code, but also demonstrating how coding is behind many items essential to most young people, like smartphones, movies and apps. Google invested $50 million in the program and partnered with Girls Scouts of the USA, the National Center of Women for Information Technology and Chelsea Clinton, among others.

Science: Not Just for Boys
But even with the inception of these programs, underlying problems remain in closing the gender gap in STEM fields, such as the lack of female role models and the persistent “science is for boys” stereotype.

“Girls know the stereotype of a geeky guy hacker in his basement all too well, and interacting with women who use computer science in their professional lives gives them an idea of something to go after besides an endless string of code,” according to a New York Times article written by Nitasha Tiku. “Many of the instructors, coding evangelists and students I spoke with credited a female mentor who nudged them along.”

In the Boston Globe article, Shermak noted how Carnegie Mellon University’s engineering school swiftly closed the gender gap by going from 7 percent females to nearly half in only five years. “Maybe we need to take a closer look at what CMU did,” Shermak wrote.

Carnegie Mellon tackled the gender gap early by training high school teachers to teach computer science and host camps and mentoring sessions for young students, both male and female. The University also started a female-to-female mentor program for computer science majors. Another step: CMU eliminated programming experience as an admissions criterion, which opened the door to girls who had not been exposed to it.

“I don’t think we’re doing anything that nobody else could do, but it has to be sustained and institutionalized,” Lenore Blum, professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon, said in a New York Times article.

Whether it’s STEM programs for girls, mentoring programs or changing university admissions criteria to entice more females to computer science, these are all steps in the right direction toward closing the gender gap.

Are you asking why this discussion is important? This US News & World Report article sums it up:“But STEM is not just about tech companies. It’s not just about people who wear lab coats. STEM skills are needed in the many millions of jobs that will have to be filled in sectors such as energy, manufacturing, food production and perhaps most significantly, health care. What industry does not need more workers with science and math know-how? And not just at the high end. Having STEM skills could mean making it into the middle class, or not.”

Understanding science, technology, engineering and math creates options, and with options comes the ability to choose. And at the end of the day, the gift of choice is the best gift you can give anyone.