Girls in IT: Supporting the Future of STEM

Today’s guest post comes from Monica Hogan, FDM Group USA.

Today as we celebrate International Women’s Day, it is encouraging to take a look back in time and see the progress, accomplishments, and discoveries that women have made throughout the years. We have come to earn more rights, more respect, and more equality in our personal and professional endeavors.

Though these advancements for women are invaluable, we haven’t won the race just yet – particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. According to the US Department of Commerce, despite the fact that women in the US make up 48% of the workforce, females still only hold 24% of jobs in STEM. How is this possible, when we consider that women outnumber men in graduating with degrees in higher education? In the pipeline of our educational institutions, where are we losing our female interest in STEM?

We lose much of that female engagement in their youth: the years of early education. The potential for significant improvements to the gender gap lies in increasing girls’ education and exposure to STEM for girls at a young age.

This won’t come without its challenges. In many ways, even if subtle, the stereotype that boys have a higher aptitude for math can still be perceived in society today. As an example, think about the gifts that children receive at the holidays: young boys tinkering with remote controlled gadgets and building model cars, while girls brush the hair of a doll or play at the stove of a plastic kitchen set. The subliminal implications of such exchanges, even when made inadvertently, are not lost on children. Over time, they may begin to see it as an intrinsic fact that boys are—or “should be”—naturally more inclined to technological and mathematical thinking. The social psychological effects of such stereotypes significantly impact girls’ levels of confidence in themselves and their abilities. This in turn affects the passions they choose to pursue as they progress through their academics.

Developing programs targeted to engage young girls with science, math, engineering, and technology is an excellent start. We need to equip them with the resources to learn and develop an early interest in these fields. Furthermore, it is just as valuable for us to make a personal investment in the success of these young girls. Keeping in mind the influence of societal stereotypes, the sustained success of early STEM education for females will thrive with a nurturing approach. Integrating mentorship and support networks with education programs will help encourage these girls’ continued involvement in STEM.

This could come in many forms…

-   A supportive parent encouraging their daughter to use and learn about the workings of the family desktop computer

-   A high school student tutoring a group of younger girls in mathematics

-   A female professional working in STEM sharing her story at the local elementary school’s Career Day

There are a few organizations today that are doing an excellent job of presenting their STEM programs in the context of mentorship environments for young ladies. One of these is Iridescent’s Technovation Challenge, which helps high school girls learn to program mobile applications and begin their own start-ups. As a global program with an excellent online platform, anyone can organize and lead a team of five girls through this free curriculum. Another organization making positive waves of change for our female youth is Girls Who Code. The 8-week summer program has aided girls from underserved schools, pairing instruction in web development, mobile design, and robotics with mentorship by many prestigious female entrepreneurs and developers. Mentorship programs for ladies are just as valuable for young adults just beginning their careers in the STEM industry; a welcoming, warm environment promotes retention of female talent and helps them to integrate into their first jobs with confidence.  At FDM Group, our Women in IT initiative has established a community of “Female Champions”. These ladies within the company voluntarily act as leaders and mentors, providing advice and organizing advantage sessions for women interested in pursuing IT careers.

For those ladies currently in STEM professions, we can be more than a statistic. We can all be role models, tutors, and mentors. We can set a positive example for our youth in STEM, showing them that they can pursue those passions and succeed.  Every small contribution to bringing a positive outlook to young ladies interested in STEM is influential.

Today as we commemorate and celebrate women, let us also consider this a call to action. I challenge you to think not just about the accomplishments made by the ladies who come before us. In addition, take some time to reflect on the ways you can be a role model for our younger generations and support girls in STEM.

Please note: All guest posts are the opinion of the author and may not be reflective of the views of NYTechWomen.

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