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The Study Hall

Importance of Encouraging Girls in STEM

I’ve been asked many times why I’m so passionate about women in STEM events. There are a multitude of reasons, but for now I’ll simplify it to a couple:

First, STEM fields are growing rapidly, and we need to find ways to fill the STEM pipeline.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) STEM related careers are projected to grow faster than any other field. The question is: How are we going to fill all of these jobs? Employers will need to look to underrepresented populations to fill workplace demands as fewer and fewer males are attaining higher education degrees in general. According to the National Science Foundation (NSF), women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, but only 29% of the science and engineering workforce.

It gets even more abysmal when you look at some of the specific engineering fields—like my field, mechanical engineering. Only 7.9% of mechanical engineers are women in the workforce (NSF, Science & Engineering Indicators, 2016). As a capitalist society, we need to provide the trained workforce, namely STEM-trained individuals, if we want companies to be successful in creating jobs that will grow our economy. I could continue down the line with how diversity in a team or company makes for a better product, but we’ll save that for another day.

Second, it’s generally understood how higher-paid jobs help to boost the standard of living. Present data indicates that those individuals with a science, engineering, or related degree earn more than those without such degrees (NSF, Science & Engineering Indicators, 2016). In my experience, women tend to not believe they have the aptitude to excel in math and sciences and take advantage of these higher-paid science and engineering jobs, which is completely wrong! I recently attended the first ever Women in EdTech MeetUp, hosted at Instructure, as a panelist. Several women came up afterwards and expressed pangs of regret and frustration. As young girls they felt they were led to believe STEM-related programming and coding was more for boys and that girls simply could not understand it.

So, what is our call to action? We need to support all individuals in exploring their full potential and provide the tools to help them realize they can do anything they want to—or even something they don’t yet know they want to. That includes exposing young women to the vast opportunities in STEM. It isn’t just about gears and coding but saving lives and improving lives for the next generation. This is one of the ways we can better our society.

I realize that this is a systemic issue, and not one that can be resolved overnight. I do think, however, that the more we talk about including Girls in STEM and the more we DO about involving girls in STEM, the sooner women and society as a whole will advance in STEM. This is why I applaud initiatives such as Canvas Network’s Girls in STEM series running now through October. There are many excellent resources available. Now is the time to act and get involved.

Keep learning,
Angela Trego, PhD, PE, PMP
VP of Women Tech Groups, Executive Board for Women Tech Council