Women hold 24% of STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) jobs in the United States. Yet, we make up 47% of the workforce, according to research from the Office of the Chief Economist (OCE).
Too often, we place gender stereotypes on professions, talents and abilities. “That’s a man’s job,” or “that’s a women’s job” is harmful and more importantly, it is not true!
“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.” – Marie Curie, first female to win the 1903 Nobel Prize in physics.
There are more women in STEM fields now than ever before. (YAY!) And, the gender wage gap is smaller in STEM jobs than in non-STEM jobs! We know the tides are changing. So, let’s keep this momentum going! Here are three tips to inspire the next generation of female leaders in STEM.
1. Normalize It
Half the battle is breaking down stereotypes and bias surrounding women in STEM. We aren’t born with bias—it is a learned behavior. (Check out this awesome video, Like A Girl by Always). When we tell someone, especially a child, what they’re capable of (or not), it forms their reality.
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t —you’re right.” – Henry Ford, inventor of the first model T car.
Let’s inspire the next generation of women by telling them they can and by encouraging them in science, technology, engineering and math. After all, women account for half the population. If the STEM field consists of just men we’re missing out on half the population’s ideas! Women bring different perspectives, methods, ideas, and ways of thinking, creating and learning.
“There’s value in having a different perspective that women bring. Companies make better products if they’ve got diversity,” Anne-Marie Imafidon, co-founder of STEMettes, (a group that inspires girls to explore STEM subjects and careers), told Cosmopolitan.
One great example: Apple’s Health App. This app was launched with the iOS8 in 2014 and tracked everything related to health except one thing: menstrual cycles. (Um…whoops!)
Menstrual cycles are a key part of women’s health. Yet a company as prominent and successful as Apple, forgot to add this to their app. Why? Because at that time only 30% of the company was female and of that only 20% were engineers.
On the bright side, there are women, right now, leading the charge in STEM. Take Elina Berglund, a Nobel Prize winner and particle physicist, who invented the app, Natural Cycles. This app not only tracks your period, but has gained approval in the EU as the first certified birth control app AND approval from the FDA in the United States. (Pretty cool, right?)
Women are not “the other half,” we are half of this world. And the STEM field needs us.
2. Women Supporting Women
Ladies, it’s not enough to just keep our heads down, do our work, and hope it pays off. We must talk about women in STEM, support each other and intentionally inspire others. Leading by example is powerful, but let’s take it a step further and actively seek out opportunities to mentor the next generation.
If you’re a woman in STEM, mentor young women/girls. If you have a daughter, niece, goddaughter, etc. expose her to STEM and encourage her to explore classes, after-school activities, clubs, and camps in STEM.
Let’s keeping supporting each other to reach for the stars, but let’s remember we’ve already been to space. (Watch the movie Hidden Figures to learn more about some of the incredible women who played a crucial role at NASA.)
There are women in STEM! Remember we already make up 24% of the current STEM field. Let’s show girls that we are already here and paving the way.
3. Talk About It Early, Talk About It Often
Sometimes people think we have “made it” or we have “finished our work.” Yes, we’ve made progress and encouraged many girls to become leaders in STEM, but there is still work to be done. We need to keep supporting girls and talking to them about STEM. And, we need to do it early and often.
Women have always made scientific and technological breakthroughs–this isn’t news. The next step is making sure our daughters, sisters, friends, nieces, and granddaughters, know the history of women in STEM, and know they are not only capable but needed in STEM.
“If we go back, our history is of us doing these kinds of [STEM] jobs,” said Ann-Marie. “It’s part of our history, it’s part of our heritage, and women who do embark on these kinds of careers are following in a long line of women before them who have done so. Tippex was invented by a woman, so were bullet proof vests. Even the first E-Book was created by a woman; we have a really, really rich history in it.”
The more positive female STEM examples we share, the more normal it will become. Let’s talk about this early, and often with the next generation of women.
Tying It All Together
The fact is, the STEM field needs more people—period. Let’s normalize, encourage, inspire and talk to the next generation of women. Because our next generation of STEM workers should be filled with the best women and men.
“You can always tell who the strong women are, they are the ones building each other up instead of tearing each other down.” – Anonymous