Telegram & Gazette Op-Ed - As I See It

Release Date: 
Wednesday, April 30, 2014

To read the Telegram & Gazette article:

Encouraging girls in STEM careers

By Victoria Waterman

This week, ask a girl to draw a scientist. Chances are, her depiction will wear a lab coat or dorky glasses. It probably will not
be a picture that inspires her to think, “That’s who I want to be when I grow up.” It will also likely be a man.
The barriers and biases that girls and women face continue to cause too many of them to disregard science and related fields.
Far too often, girls and women and our institutions second guess their talents and we — our economy, academic institutions,
and society — lose out.

While girls and boys as young as third grade start identifying math as “for boys” but not “for girls,” it is middle school age
when girls typically start to lose interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). What happens next? They
do not add that AP Physics class to their schedule, select an engineering major, or pursue a chemistry-focused career.
A recent article in The New York Times Magazine examined why this gap persists, particularly at the university level.
Again and again, women got the message that their work was not good enough. Sometimes this message was explicit yet
baseless, but often women cited a lack of encouragement from peers and professors, which they took to mean they did not
have what it takes. Women also discussed how, with fewer women in STEM, there were fewer female role models and
mentors available. The piece married this qualitative evidence with research showing a disturbing bias towards viewing male
candidates as more competent and worthy of a higher salary by both men and women when hiring.

Meanwhile, the need for qualified STEM workers is growing.

  • Last year the U.S. STEM workforce surpassed 7.4 million workers and it is expected to grow significantly through 2018, to an estimated 8.65 million jobs. At current university graduation rates it is estimated that the U.S. will be only able to fill half those positions.
  • Between 2011 and 2015, an estimated 1.7 million jobs will be created in cloud computing in North America.
  • By 2018, the bulk of STEM jobs will be in Computing followed by Engineering. Today, only about one in seven engineers is a woman in the US.

Meeting these needs tomorrow requires bringing more girls into the STEM picture today. It means expecting girls to do well
in science and math, and shattering stereotypes that science is unfeminine or geeky. It is about letting them make mistakes
and learn from them. It involves showing how STEM is already a part of their everyday lives.
For girls to truly succeed in STEM, they need a support system: adults who believe in their abilities; women who are in
these fields to act as role models; and other girls who share their interests.

Thankfully, there is growing recognition among community based organizations, schools, companies, nonprofits, and
government to understand the causes and create real solutions. Together, we can create homes, classrooms, afterschool
programs, and a workforce that encourage girls as well as boys to discover STEM as fields full of opportunity and