In the wake of International Women’s Day, we look at the progress we are making and where we need to go next.
As a nation, the U.S. has fallen behind on the global scale of young people entering the sciences, and the shortfall is significant. In order to continue our strong streak in technology and to address some of the pressing problems we face as a nation, it is imperative that we look to young girls and women to fill these positions in the immediate future.
It is a very promising sign that other developing nations are changing their laws to allow women the right to education and professions that were not accessible previously, and we should do everything in our power as professional women to assure our young women get the chance to make a difference that they deserve.
So what is happening out there in the world to support girls in STEM? Let’s take a look at the real work taking place in the name of female empowerment.
An extensive series of studies supported by the AAUW, American Association of University Women, illustrates the tilted numbers in terms of hiring rates, raises, and paths to advancement in the workforce that favor men. The project set out to determine if the percentages could be influenced with prescribed points of action.
The study used Harvey Mudd College as a test run to boost their female science graduates with a three-point plan. The results were staggering: in 2009, female
science graduates composed around 12% of the entire graduating class and by 2011, that number shot up to 40% while the national average remained static at
The Cascading Influences project examined informal STEM programs and their impact on moving young women into science and math. The idea was to look at everyday experiences that might influence girls positively. While a multitude of programs had been instituted to evaluate girls in STEM, that evaluation process ended when funding for the program ended, so there was no ongoing examination of how this affected girls into adulthood. From the ages of 10 to 14, interest in the sciences drops off sharply among boys and girls4. This overarching study attempted to see how early experiences with STEM based projects influenced higher education.
Overwhelmingly, girls who participated in the numerous programs evaluated were more likely to remain interested and pursue careers in math, natural sciences, and engineering. These women reported lasting positive experiences that shaped their professional identities and outcomes.
Despite the fact that girls represent 56% of Advanced Placement test takers in all subjects, they only comprise 19% in AP computer sciences. This gap is particularly troubling because IT is one of the fastest growing industries in the world and reflects significant opportunity for high-paying positions after college.
The National Center for Women & Information Technology supplies this report targeting educators, curriculum developers, administrators, educational
policymakers, school counselors, and parents to raise awareness and implement methodologies and criteria for inclusion, including breaking down social
stereotypes, providing role models, and addressing self esteem issues. You can view the report in its entirety here:
Women comprise 51% of the population in the U.S., yet they only make up 18-19% of computer sciences professions. Even more alarming is that this number has plummeted from 37% in the 1980s. It is estimated that by 2020, there will be another 1.5 million jobs in this field, yet with the current rate of graduates, we will only be able to fill 32% of those jobs6. Young women can be the key to solving this shortfall.
Google partnered with the Center for American Progress to help address the need for women to enter IT-related industries. Google has invested $23.5 million in K-12 education to tackle the gender gap, estimating that it will aid five million young women in advanced computer study.
All around the globe, women are underrepresented in the work force, and so countries are recognizing that if they want to remain competitive, the workforce itself need to change to support the untapped potential of removing gender barriers.
The online publication Mashable put together a list of countries and organizations who are making remarkable strides in shattering the glass ceiling. Brazil for
example, ranks first in STEM gender equality by instituting progressive social policies, state-funded tuition, and education abroad programs2. View the Mashable article for more inspiring examples of success worldwide:
While it can appear on an anecdotal level that women have achieved equality, there are still institutionalized attitudes that prevent women from entering these crucial industries, or from advancing in their careers. Not surprisingly, women have contributed significant innovations in the world of science and technology, helping to broaden our understanding and improve the human project.
It is clear that with guidance and resources, our young women are unstoppable in these arenas and if we continue to aid their progress, we are contributing to the future of humanity itself. For more on these exciting strides and how you can make your own contribution to these important projects, check out the National Girls Collaborative Project here: https://ngcproject.org/get-involved.