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How to Help 30 Million Girls Build Careers in STEM

stem-signage image www.goodgirlsgo.com

Around the world and across every industry, science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields are profoundly transforming society. Computers, transistors, data, and algorithms-and the experts who build and utilize these powerful technologies-are propelling communities and markets forward. Simply put, STEM workers are our world’s change agents, which is why the gender imbalance in the STEM community must be urgently addressed.

More than half of all college graduates are women[1], but according to the American Association of University Women, women earn only 20 percent of physics, engineering, and computer science bachelor’s degrees.[2] Women make up nearly half the total U.S. workforce, but just a quarter of the STEM workforce.[3]

STEM is the work of tomorrow, and it is today’s path to success. STEM employment is predicted to balloon by almost 17 percent between 2010 and 2020.[4] So why aren’t women pursuing STEM degrees and careers? Is it because they are not great at math? Are they disinterested in science? Of course not. Millions of girls and young women would earn STEM degrees and pursue STEM careers if they had one simple thing: encouragement.

Today, only 15 percent of high school girls in the U.S. express interest in pursuing STEM college majors or careers (compared to 40 percent of high school boys).[5] This is unacceptable. It is our responsibility to make sure that all girls can find a place in STEM. We need to encourage and support them as they begin their STEM education, and transition into a STEM career. But without an organized program, it’s difficult for professionals to know how to help and connect with these young women.

Enter Million Women Mentors (MWM), a STEMconnector® initiative. MWM is a collaborative effort between 60 national partners to provide over 30 million girls and women worldwide with STEM mentors. MWM will support one million STEM mentors-so far, 500,000 have pledged to mentor-to increase girls’ interest in pursuing STEM education and careers, and give them the confidence they need to thrive.

Through an automated, scalable and easy-to-use platform, MWM eliminates the obstacles that have stymied past efforts of similar scope. MWM’s program gives STEM professionals a choice of mentorship opportunities (face-to-face, online, paid internships or apprenticeships, workplace mentoring, or sponsorship) in order to reach and assist young women of all demographics.

PepsiCo chairs MWM’s global leadership council, and is committed to addressing the challenge of helping young women find careers in STEM. In 2015, PepsiCo boosted its MWM participation by mobilizing over 100 mentors in the United States. In addition, PepsiCo launched MWM’s first pilot program outside the U.S, in Mexico. Over the course of the 2015-2016 school year, 36 volunteer mentors will pair with a first-year STEM student from Universidad Iberoamericana. In 2016, this program will be replicated by other universities, high schools, and companies. PepsiCo’s goal is to sponsor 1,000 mentors in areas beyond the U.S. and Mexico, including France, Poland, and Dubai.

Together, MWM and PepsiCo had a vision for a STEM revolution-one mentor, and one girl, at a time. We’ve already seen some amazing progress, but imagine what could happen if every STEM professional made a commitment to mentoring one-on-one for just two hours a month. We could truly change the game.

Maya Angelou once said, “In order to be a mentor, and an effective one, one must care.” We all care about the phones in our hands, the computers on our desks, and the cars that we drive. But we must care even more about the girls who want to invent, explore, and discover the next generation of amazing STEM breakthroughs, but who just need a little encouragement to do so.

We can be the catalyst, and these girls can-and will-build the future.

[1] U.S. Department of Commerce: Economics and Statistics Administration https://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/acs-24.pdf

[2] http://www.aauw.org/files/2013/02/Why-So-Few-Women-in-Science-Technology-Engineering-and-Mathematics.pdf

[3] U.S. Department of Commerce: Economics and Statistics Administration

[4] The White House Council on Women and Girls 2012 https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/email-files/womens_report_final_for_print.pdf

[5]myCollegeOptions.org®/STEMconnector Cooperative Research Program (2015)

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Henry Sapiecha

Science Week: UNSW moves to strengthen women’s role in science.Read more for video.

Here’s a paradox. How does science move beyond the gender stereotypes holding women back even as it celebrates the particular qualities they bring to scientific endeavour?

As National Science Week started, it was such matters that some of Australia’s finest minds pondered at a University of NSW symposium celebrating women’s leadership in science.

 

 

scientists (from left) Professor Veena Sahajwalla, Dr Rebecca Johnson, Professor Emma Johnston and Professor Angela Moles. image www.goodgirlsgo.com

Stereotype-busting scientists (from left) Professor Veena Sahajwalla, Dr Rebecca Johnson, Professor Emma Johnston and Professor Angela Moles. Photo: Brendan Esposito

“There is a paradox,” Professor Emma Johnston said. Professor Johnston is head of the applied marine and estuarine ecology lab at UNSW and runs the Sydney Harbour Research Program at the Sydney Institute of Marine Science.

“On the one hand we want to let more women into the system and we know that we need to change the system for that to happen. On the other hand we want the system itself to be accepting of women who are not necessarily ‘super high caring’. We want them to be able to succeed in science as well.

“So it’s about increasing diversity. We don’t want to constrain everybody to work within the stereotypes that already exist.”

Scientists pondered the question of gender stereotypes at a symposium supporting more women achieving in science image www.goodgirlsgo.com

Scientists pondered the question of gender stereotypes at a symposium supporting more women achieving in science. Photo: Brendan Esposito

More than 200 women and men gathered on Friday at UNSW to celebrate women’s leadership in science. As well as an abundance of people who simply loved their jobs, the overwhelming theme was about supporting more women achieving in science.

A look at the figures is sobering.

More than 50 per cent of science PhDs and early career graduates are women. Yet, according to the Office of the Chief Scientist, only 17 per cent of senior science academics in Australian universities and research institutes are women.

Louise McSorley, acting head of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, told the conference that there is a 26 per cent pay gap between men and women in the sciences. And while women make up 61.4 per cent of science employment, just 27.6 per cent of key management jobs are held by women.

UNSW’s Professor Johnston said that alongside broader social pressures, “these add up to cause real bottle necks in the system. We have a very low number of women in higher levels of academia.”

Professor Angela Moles, head of the Big Ecology Lab at UNSW, said: “If you don’t have women [involved in science] then you’re really wasting a lot of amazing talent.”

The call for diversity is backed by Dr Rebecca Johnson, director of the Australian Museum Research Institute. She said: “An ecosystem is nothing without its diversity, and the same could be applied to science.”

Gender disparity in the natural and physical sciences at the higher academic levels (B to E) chart image www.goodgirlsgo.com

Gender disparity in the natural and physical sciences at the higher academic levels (B to E). Photo: Higher Education Research Data Collection 2012, Department of Education

UNSW Scientia Professor Veena Sahajwalla agreed. She said: “Women bring along a whole diversity of thinking – that lateral ability to bring across a whole range of ideas.”

Professor Johnston said that by including more women in science “you’re tapping into a different set of cultural values and different ways of working that can be beneficial. We know that diversity in the workplace actually increases productivity: it increases the rate at which problems get solved and science is all about solving problems.”

​So how can the current situation change?

Professor Moles said that a cultural shift in the roles of fathers “would have benefits for women, for men and for children”. “I’d like to see dads get more involved” in parenting.

She said it’s also about having role models: “It’s important that the women coming up through the ranks have good, positive role models.”

Professor Johnston agrees: “Unless you can see someone in front of you that you can identify with … you lose confidence, you lose the willingness to try. So if we don’t have women in science in leadership positions as role models, we won’t get the next generation of women through.”

And it seems there are changes afoot.

At the symposium UNSW Vice-Chancellor Ian Jacobs announced that his university had set itself the goal of appointing 100 female professors over the next 10 years. He also committed the university to involvement in the pilot Athena SWAN Charter program to promote women in science leadership roles.

This month the Australian Academy of Science is launching a two-year pilot involving up to 20 Australian universities, research institutes and government science organisations based on the British program, launched in 2005. The pilot will be overseen by the Science in Australia Gender Equity initiative, SAGE.

The program will require participants to collect, analyse and present data on gender equity policies and practices in science, technology, engineering and mathematics departments. Participants will also need to identify gaps and opportunities for improvement.

Those involved in the pilot will work towards an Athena SWAN Award at the Institutional Bronze level, which is a mandatory requirement for future Silver and Gold awards at the institutional and departmental levels.

In Britain, medical research institutes must hold a silver Athena SWAN award in order to receive research funds.

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Henry Sapiecha