Young boys have consistently grown up with a myriad of role models around them, shaping their ambitions and ideas of their future selves. They are met with visions of leadership, confidence, and innovation. From Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs and Elon Musk—there has been no shortage of male engineers, scientists, mathematicians, technologists, entrepreneurs, and inventors for little boys to look up to. But what about the women?
There’s nothing in a girl’s bio-genetic makeup that suggests an inherent lack of ability or interest in the sciences or math. Quite the contrary: in the U.S., 74% of middle school girls express interest in STEM. Yet, by the time they reach high school, only 0.4% of girls plan to major in computer science.
So, why the dramatic drop off? The answer is astonishingly simple. As most girls get older, they feel an added pressure to adopt traits and gravitate toward the subscribed “feminine.” Somewhere along the way, math and science was assigned to the masculine end of the spectrum. When and where that exact societal determination took place is a subject for another discussion.
The girls who maintain their STEM interest into and beyond high school are often faced with ‘the-cheese-stands-alone’ syndrome. They are the ‘other’ and, at times ridiculed for showing an interest in math or science. For those women who transcend the social discouragement and lack of infrastructural support and continue on into a career in STEM, they are met with challenges of discrimination and having to navigate through a male-dominated space.
This discrimination was demonstrated by a Yale-conducted study conducted which found that physicists, chemists, and biologists are likely to view a young male scientist more favorably than a woman with the same qualifications. When presented with the identical credentials of two fictional applicants, the professors proved significantly more willing to offer a man the job. If a woman was awarded the job, she was offered an average of $4,000 less than her male counterparts. It’s no wonder that women account for only 18% of computer science degree recipients, 18-20% of engineering students and less than 25% of the workforce in STEM fields.
At first glance, the lack of encouragement and support for women currently in STEM careers and future generations is an issue of gender equality. And, to be sure, it is. But it doesn’t stop there. Having women in these fields is vital to the economy. Tech continues to be a booming industry, and there’s no end in sight for needing scientists, mathematicians, and engineers. Few would argue that such industries are not crucial to economic growth and, currently, the supply of skilled STEM workers is weaker than the demand.
By not investing in the support and interest of female students—who might one day contribute innovative ideas and products—we are overlooking a massive talent pool, hurting our competitive edge on a global scale. Furthermore, STEM is lucrative; women in STEM jobs make anaverage of 33% more than those in non-STEM jobs. Women win. The economy wins. We all win.
The paradigm has begun to shift as people around the world continue to amplify the issue and to demonstrate women’s contributions to these industries in the public sphere. The social media movement #ILookLikeAnEngineer has helped to shatter the stereotype of an engineer, highlighting diversity within the field.
At Hope Street Group, we teamed up with General Assembly for the Twitter conversation Closing the Gender Gap in Innovation: Why We Need Women in STEM to unite trailblazers and influencers around the issue, generating awareness and identifying systemic solutions to support women currently in STEM professions and the path for future generations.
Groups are motivating female-led innovation through scholarships and competitions. General Assembly’s Opportunity Fund is awarding women and minorities with scholarships to support their futures as tech innovators while the global competition Technovation Challenge encourages female students to design a mobile app to solve a real problem in their community using coding and entrepreneurial skills. Other organizations—Girls Who Code, Made With Code and Black Girls Code to name a few—are also spearheading this cultural revolution to value and support our girls in STEM, both in school and in the workforce.
When it comes to STEM, let’s toss aside the misguided assignment of “masculine” vs. “feminine.” STEM shouldn’t be about drawing a dividing line between girls and boys in the classroom. It’s about exposing everyone to strong role models, to the creative and practical potential of science and math, and to instilling them with confidence in and excitement for these subjects. It’s about gender equality, human rights, economic opportunity and growth. And it’s about time.
Learn more about how we’re trying to level the playing field in tech.