In the mid-1980s, women held 36% of computer science related bachelor’s degrees. Today, that number has dipped to only 20%, even though women obtain 60% of all bachelor degrees and make up 48% of the workforce, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. This same disproportionate figure applies to all women who acquire STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) educations and professions. But why? Luckily, experts have uplifting news and three core strategies in order to make geeky girls more common.
Experts attribute the problem of too few women in STEM to stereotypes, flaws in K-12 curriculum, and lack of programs that will encourage women to study STEM subjects. First, at an early age, women are attached to reading and humanities, while men side with math and science creating these stereotypes. Media serves as a helping hand in these stereotypes, portraying men as geeky programmers (Erkel anyone?), while promoting women as powerful lawyers and doctors. Forbes asks: what if people knew that the brains behind Facebook’s newsfeed and photo viewer tools were those female engineers? Visibility and knowledge of the existence of female engineers could empower other women to engage in the STEM field themselves.
Two Stanford computer science females debunk this stereotype by creating a documentary, “She ++”, motivated by Stanford’s conference on women in technology in 2012. The documentary, released April 1, 2013, analyzes why there was a 79% drop in the number of women considering computer science as a major after their first year of undergrad from 2000 to 2009. The film interviews high school students, Stanford grads, to CEOs in order to empower women and “explore our potential as ‘femgineers’.” For more information on She ++, check out their website or Twitter.
Second, we need to integrate STEM into the K-12 curriculum. Do you recall ever having an engineering focus in elementary school? I remember participating in our 7th grade science fair – but we had full discretion on what we wanted to study (I tested different face-cleansing pads on various types of skin!), and it didn’t necessarily require building anything or involve tech. Forbes recommends having female engineers come and speak to students about tech and science related jobs as early as middle school. And according to a Microsoft Study, even though 93% of parents believe STEM subjects should be a top priority in the K-12 curriculum, only 24% would be willing to spend money on extracurricular STEM programs and activities. This highlights the importance of integrating more hands on STEM projects and activities throughout a student’s K-12 learning experience.
In order to motivate hands on building project even before kindergarten, Debbie Sterling, a Stanford engineer, designed Goldie Blox, the new reading/building toy for girls. Goldie Blox allows little girls to exude their inner-engineer guided by reading the adventures of Goldie and her crew and solving problems by building projects. For more information on Goldie Blox, check out the website and Twitter.
Third, more programs are needed to inspire and engage women in STEM. Forbes recommends university programs that break up starting STEM courses into categories in order to ward off any fear women have to jumping into science or tech. For example, Harvey Mudd College offers students an option to choose between the “black” course for those with some programming experience or “gold” course for those with no prior experience. Furthermore, in her HuffPost article, Chelsea Clinton boasts about CGI U (Clinton Global Initiative University), a program that gathers top student leaders and organizations in order to innovate solutions for the world’s pressing problems. Founded by her father Former President Bill Clinton, CGI U has been used to spark a mentorship program between Duke female engineers and Duram teenagers who together assemble low-cost medical devices for developing countries. Chelsea remarks, “mentorship programs for girls like this, which demystify STEM, make it real and give girls confidence in their own STEM abilities, are crucial to changing the perception that careers in STEM are better suited for boys.”
Utilizing these techniques and promoting STEM at an early age, there should be little doubt that the U.S. Department of Commerce foresees an 18% increase in women in STEM from 2008 to 2018. Early childhood programs like Goldie Blox, paired with positive portrays of girly geeks such as in She++ and a more K-12 science/tech focused curriculum should be the solving equation for more ‘femgineers’.